“As America’s colleges and universities search for ways to go green, many are looking at the dining hall….where five times more energy and water are consumed than any place else on campus.” (WVTF)
Small things matter.
Here at U.Va. and apparently at several hundred other colleges, Aramark–a primary food distribution company for large organizations like schools and hospitals and corporations–is going without trays. (Listen here. See here.) Large-scale food distribution provides both the benefits of efficiencies of scale and the drawbacks of efficiencies of scale. They can get a lot of food out there, and do it with cost-reducing mechanisms. But they propagate waste, encourage mass consumption, and require patterns of agricultural growth that are based on mechanical values instead of sustainable (and organic) ones.
So, the tray. One place to start. Reduces water use (to clean the trays), electricity (to handle and clean the trays), and waste (by encouraging smaller portions).
UPDATE: So, given Mark and Kevin’s comments, I realized a lesson of blogging, which is, do a better job. I casually picked a nice-looking picture of a lunch tray from Google, slapped it up with the story, ran off to teach class (about “improvement,” no less — see below), and didn’t consider the implications of all that disposable crap on the lunch tray when paired with the actual linked story. This was misleading. The point of the trayless lunch is that these Aramark services don’t ladle out food onto trays. They always serve it on other plates and bowls which go on the trays. (The picture above is random–it doesn’t have anything to do with a UVA cafeteria.) One thing that’s better is if they use recyclable plates and fewer of them. Thus, for lunch seekers without a tray, what you’re doing is holding a drink in one hand and a plate in another. This removes the tray handling, washing, and drying aspects, which is where the water and energy savings come from. The plate issue is ostensibly the same with or without trays, but the excess energy from the trays is removed. At the same time, not having a tray does discourage overstacking and piling on and thus subtly encourages less consumption. So it’s supposed to be an improvement. You can imagine that Aramark does it for self-interest, because it saves money, but it also offers advantages for the host institution. Whichever, I think Mark’s more significant point is the challenge to this idea that all of the above is “better” or an improvement — really all it does is return us to where we were in the past before we starting using all that disposable crap and piling on more and more food. In this case improvement means we might get back to where we used to be.