Campus addresses food waste and sustainability issues

Photo courtesy of Joselin Marroquin ’22  Food waste collected over the span of two hours in the Dining Commons.

Photo courtesy of Joselin Marroquin ’22

Food waste collected over the span of two hours in the Dining Commons.

BY LIZ LEWIS ’22

Campus sustainability, particularly when it comes to food, has been a topic of discussion in the Mount Holyoke community for years. In the past few weeks, the topic of food waste has been widely discussed on campus. This recent effort to raise awareness is student-led, and included a film screening of “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story.”

In light of Mount Holyoke’s shift to centralized dining, Dining Services has capitalized on this period of transition to move towards limiting food waste as much as possible. According to the Mount Holyoke website, “the Dining Commons has been built with a food dehydrator system that will process and dehydrate food waste in less than 24 hours before being locally composted,” with additional claims that on campus, “there are strong efforts to divert nearly all food waste, both pre- and post-consumer, to composting.” In the 2017 fiscal year, Mount Holyoke dining services “composted over 255 tons of food waste,” according to the College’s website. 

The current student-driven movement to reduce food waste, however, emphasizes the consumer side of the issue, urging students to put more thought into their personal food waste. Various promotional materials, including cards scattered on Dining Commons tables and posters hung up around campus, encourage students to only take what they will eat by taking food in small portions. 

Joselin Marroquin ’22, a student in the course titled “Introduction to Environmental Entrepreneurship: Campus Sustainability” with visiting lecturer in Environmental Studies Jennifer Albertine, is currently working with two other students on a group project concerning reducing food waste on campus. To Marroquin, who has been a prominent voice on this issue across campus recently, “Limiting food is important in this day and age because with the increase of population, I believe we need to be more sustainable and cautious [with] all the food we have now.” Marroquin also has a personal connection to this issue. “I am from [New Jersey], but all my family is from Guatemala and Honduras,” she said. “I’ve witnessed kids with nothing and [given] them all my clothes and [shared] my food with them because that was important…[because] the opportunity [to eat] should be a right no matter your socioeconomic status. I believe this has always been an issue but now more than ever we need to create a space where people can start being more aware of their actions.”

On Sunday, April 7, Marroquin and her fellow group members, Eleanor Stewart ’19 and Adrienne Baxter ’22, hosted a screening of “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story” in Dwight 202 from 3-5 p.m. This documentary, directed by Grant Baldwin and produced by Jenny Rustemeyer, came out in 2014 as a creative response to the American culture of excess. The film explores the extent of the food waste crisis in America, while also highlighting thrifty, unconventional ways that regular people can limit personal food waste. “Just Eat It,” which Variety called “hugely entertaining,” was nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Documentaries in 2016, and was well received by those who attended the screening on Sunday. 

In reference to what students can individually do to help reduce food waste, Marroquin suggested that “students….should not eat with their eyes….[and tell] their friends not to grab too much and just take one plate at a time.” In applying this philosophy off campus, she also urged individuals to “take these ideas” to the grocery store, making shorter lists to reduce intake. “Teaching about food waste in your household” can also help, as well as “finding ways to reduce the amount of waste produced in your home.” 

Marroquin hopes that the Mount Holyoke community can hold more open discussions on the topic in the future. “We don’t need to argue or tell each other what we should’ve done,” said Marroquin. “Simply [...] trying [to have these] discussions” can help in the mission to “bring [...] more awareness between everyone.”