Planting the seeds of change with mindful consumption

Ellie Hislop, Staff Writer

If you knew that approximately 25 percent of the total food waste in the United States is enough to provide three meals a day to 43 million people and that 40 percent of the food produced in the nation goes to waste, would you make more of an effort to clear your plate? On Nov. 14, Professor of Economics Nancy White’s Mindful Consumption foundation seminar weighed the amount of food students left uneaten on their plates in Bostwick Marketplace. White’s students then urged their peers to think twice about what they were putting on their plates and start the lifelong challenge of mindful eating.

The class of first-years started their project on Nov. 7, working behind the scenes in the Bostwick kitchen. After measuring all of the leftover food on students’ plates between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m., the waste totaled around 120 pounds. The goal of the experiment was to study whether mindful eating can effectively reduce plate waste in Bostwick Marketplace and educate students on the severity of mindless consumption in the United States.

“It made me think about the amount of food I waste at home, for example, throwing out expired food from the fridge. It’s so wasteful,” Eli Mauskopf ’20 said.

Fellow classmates Evan Castillo ’20, Lexi Katz ’20, and Emily Barlow ’20 agreed that the amount of waste created by University students during just one meal was shocking.

“I saw whole bananas with the peel completely untouched. It taught me to only take what I know I’m going to eat,” Megan Shanahan ’20 said. 

The amount of food that goes to waste in the United States has reached new heights.

“I never thought about all of the time and energy involved in getting food products to grocery stores, and how so much of that food then goes to waste,” Shanahan said.

According to White’s presentation, the average food item in the United States travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Locally-grown products are considered to be foods obtained from a 150-mile radius from where they are being consumed.

Castillo spoke of the “large amounts of fossil fuels being burned in order to package and transport food items,” emphasizing that these chemicals are “extremely harmful for the environment.” Around 23 percent of U.S. methane emissions come from uneaten food.

“We don’t know how growing food and wasting it wastes fossil fuels, water, and devalues our respect for the people who make our meals possible,” White said.

“Freshman with full meal plans have so much food available to them all the time, and therefore don’t often think about all of the people in the U.S. who don’t have the same options,” Barlow said.

 The Mindful Consumption students walked around Bostwick asking their peers whether or not they were interested in learning more about “how to be aware of what they eat, how hungry they are, and where their food came from.” Mary Catherine Jones ’20 said that “some people clearly felt uncomfortable and attacked, but others were really interested in what we had to say.”

“We are not thinking of those who do not get enough to eat and we miss opportunities to be grateful for all that we have,” White said.

Ultimately, by encouraging University students to focus on their food, asses their hunger, and consider their options in Bostwick, the Mindful Consumption class was able to make their peers aware of their own food waste and show them the impact they have on the environment. In White’s words, they were able “to plant the seed that mindful awareness is one approach to wasting less food and for giving thanks for being one of the lucky ones who gets to eat today.”

All of this discussion surrounding food waste has brought to light the potential for reinstating a composting system in Bostwick Marketplace. The University began composting in April 2011 and was able to maintain the process until May 2012. During that time, 13 tons of post-consumer waste were composted. After years of discussion and planning, the University was able to reach an agreement with a local sustainable farm called Rowse House Farms. Unfortunately the process had to be ceased. However, the University is actively seeking a similar arrangement elsewhere and hopes to find one in the near future.

“We don’t approach food and say that we’d like to waste it; rather, we are not paying attention to how hungry we are and how much food we pile on our plates,” White said. 

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