Despite coming in with a stated goal of increased sustainability, the new dining hall management at Pomona has had to put the Food Rescue Program on hold, causing excess food to go to waste.
According to Samantha Meyer PO ‘10, the Sustainability and Purchasing Coordinator for Pomona’s Dining Services, the dining halls’ waste is separated into three categories: compost, which consists of all the pre-production food scraps; recyclables, which includes paper, plastic, cardboard, metal, and glass; and everything that cannot go into these two categories, “trash.” While handling the first two types of waste has kept the new management team busy, the composition of what constitutes “trash” has swelled to include foods that, before this semester, were preserved and donated to local shelters.
In 2008, Pomona student Tammy Zhu ‘10 received a Strauss grant to start a project that would allow students to take already-prepared but still untouched foods from Pomona’s dining halls and deliver these meals to Inland Valley Hope Partners, a local food pantry and homeless shelter. Zhu and other students collaborated with former dining hall management, Sodexo, to institutionalize the program.
“The problem isn’t always that they can’t get enough food, but more that it’s usually just canned soup and stuff like that which isn’t healthy,” Nick Murphy PO ‘12 said, a participant in the program. “Our food, even if we don’t think it’s the best food, is definitely a step up for a lot of people.”
The Food Rescue program, as Zhu’s project became known, quickly became a critical provider for the organization. When the program was running, the food donated on a single day fed up to 75 people at Hope Partners and helped Pomona reduce its food waste.
According to dining hall worker Don Towns, since the program has been put on hold, the amount of “trash” waste produced by the dining halls has dramatically increased.
“The food going into the bin has increased by double,” Towns said. “No one’s picking up the leftover warm food and now everything’s going into the trash. No one’s stepped up and said ‘Hey, let’s get these people, let’s get the shelter, let’s get the church, let’s do what Sodexo did in that regard, and so now everything is going to waste.”
Meyer, however, disputes this claim. “Our trash has dramatically reduced since the new management team started, not increased,” Meyer said in an e-mail to TSL. One reason the overall food waste has been reduced, according to Meyer, is the increase in food sent to Pomona’s Organic Farm as compost.
Meyer also stated that the new management team hoped to reinstate the program, but with a more responsible approach. Meyer said that the program will remain sidelined until they are able to find a “safe way to save and transport food.”
“We used to do food rescue, and we’re looking to get that started again,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting the right systems in place. That wasn’t happening before, and now we want to ensure that it’s done safely.”
While Towns said he understands the difficulties of adjusting to a new management system, he believes the new team needs to make food waste a higher priority.
“I understand the management is busy bringing new recipes [and] new food items, trying to listen to the students. Students are asking for certain things, so they are concentrating on improving the menu, making it better,” Towns said. “As soon as they get a grasp of that, they need to have someone, maybe a shelter, maybe a church… in case you have enough food leftover for 100, 200 people, so that it won’t go in the dumpster. Because the ideal, perfect scenario would be [that] everyone eats all the food that’s cooked. But if we can’t get that, what we can get is as close to that as possible.”