Miami University’s Associated Student Government (ASG) launched an initiative earlier this month to reduce food waste in campus dining halls by asking students to “pick their portion.”
Dining halls across campus now display stickers on the glass in front of food stations prompting students to be specific about the amount of food they wish to receive. Options include double, full and half-portions, as well as “just a taste.” Posters with information about food waste are also located at dining hall entrances.
QR codes on the posters lead to an ASG webpage with information about estimating portion sizes, statistics about food waste in the United States and details about Pick Your Portion’s objectives.
The website contains visualizations to help students understand serving sizes using household items. For instance, the website compares one cup with the size of a baseball, and three ounces of cooked meat to the size of a deck of playing cards.
Cameron Tiefenthaler, a first-year academic senator in ASG and one of the creators of Pick Your Portion, explained the motivations behind the effort.
“One of the main tenets of my platform was investigating composting at Miami,” she said. “We decided as a committee that it would be best to direct our attention towards reducing food waste to begin with.”
Reducing food waste at the source is the first step in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy and revolves around throwing away less food.
Tiefenhaler said specifying portion sizes can ultimately help reduce food waste.
“The server cannot read your mind on how much you want, so if you just say, ‘I want some carrots and some mashed potatoes,’ you're just going to get a random amount,” Tiefenthaler said. “You may have just wanted to try the potatoes, and instead you get this huge portion that you’ll end up wasting."
The purpose of ASG’s program has nothing to do with giving nutritional advice, as is the case with posters like MyPlate.
“The intention of this program is not to make students feel guilty about what they’re eating or regulate that in any way,” Tienfenthaler said. “This is more focused on the sustainability side.”
Geno Svec, executive director of campus services and chief hospitality officer, wrote in an email to The Miami Student that, while dining halls throw away food at the end of the day as required by the health department, students specifying their portions could lead to less food waste in the long run.
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“The menu items are projected based upon the usage the last time that item was used in the rotation,” Svec wrote. “The menu item is prepped and produced as needed.”
If students request the exact amount of food they wish to eat, then more accurate quantities of those food items will be prepared the next time around. Svec wrote the initiative should significantly reduce dining hall waste overall as a result.
While it remains unclear how many have adjusted their language, a key part of the initiative relies on getting enough students to adopt this more specific way of requesting food.
Ava Shaffer, a first-year creative writing major, said if not enough people use the new language to begin with, the program will have difficulty catching on.
“I think it depends on the student,” Shaffer said. “If people read it and it's normalized enough that people know the words, then they’ll say it.”
First-year Luke Nordhaus said, while students may make an effort to specify their portions at first, they may forget over time.
“I think most people would probably read it the first time they see it,” Nordhaus said, “but over time, they might forget about it eventually, unless they make a specific point to focus on their portions.”
Both Shaffer and Nordhaus said they have not begun using the stickers’ recommendations.