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Design for America hosts food waste workshop

| Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday night marked a major milestone for the Design for America (DFA) candidate chapter at Notre Dame, as it entered round two of the four-step application process to become an official studio by hosting a creative workshop. The two-hour event at West Lake Hall focused on ways to reduce food waste in the dining halls, which the co-organizers say amounts to about 1.2 tons per day.

According to its website, DFA is a “nationwide network of interdisciplinary student teams and community members using design to create local and social impact.” The 2,000 student-strong organization, which was founded in 2009 at Northwestern University, focuses on tackling “over 100 local and social challenges annually” in the areas of economy, education, environment and health.

Seniors Brian Donlin and John Wetzel and junior William Picoli lead Notre Dame’s DFA candidate chapter. DFA fellow and mentor Julian Bongiorno led Monday’s workshop with the assistance of the three co-organizers.

Wetzel said DFA differs from the seemingly similar Student International Business Council (SIBC) in that the “purely business” SIBC faced criticism in the past for accepting only business students, a policy that the SIBC leadership has since reversed.

“If you look at all the different organizations on this campus, there are very few that are truly interdisciplinary,” Wetzel said. “You bring all that together and use that to your advantage as a strength. That’s something our University as a whole has kind of struggled with in finding how that all fits in.”

“We’re hoping to be part of something that can bridge that gap and unite students from all those groups to work together.”

During the workshop, the co-organizers asked for a show of hands to indicate students’ areas of study. These varied from industrial design to English.

Initially, each group was assigned a persona and tasked to argue from that perspective, with stakeholders ranging from a fictional Notre Dame Food Services administrator to a “filler upper” student, to rationalize their behaviors described and how this relates back to serving, preparation, consumption, cleaning and disposal. Participants then attempted to brainstorm as many solutions as possible to the problems that arose.

“Maybe if we make Grab and Go bags that are interesting or funny, they’ll become a commodity for people to get food with,” freshman Kevin Ramos said, expanding on the proposition to extend the life of the existing disposable paper bags and cut down on waste.

“It would be cool if we could give students more accessibility to feedback, whether giving ratings on food or offering recipes,” senior Julia Bontempo said. “Students could suggest what they wanted to eat. Maybe one day a week.”

Commenting on another suggestion to increase the use of reusables, junior Hannah Chiarella said, “I always feel stupid taking the same plate going back.” She added she does reuse cups for refilling drinks.

Other students suggested mandating feedback similar to Course Instructor Feedback, the current system used to rate academic teaching quality, in addition to being able to rate the food itself through the My Notre Dame application for all students to see. Another popular suggestion was to compartmentalize the dishes or trays to reduce the amount of clutter, food taken and need for washing dishes.

“The whole idea is not so much about what to eat and how much to eat, but the main point is the waste. It’s more about being a responsible consumer,” sophomore Daara Jalili said.

Following this workshop, the local candidate chapter will have one month to work on an idea to compete against eight other schools, including University of Southern California, to be judged by DFA on which “creates the most impact.” About half of these hopefuls will be selected to become official DFA studios.

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About Samuel Chan

Samuel Chan is a sophomore exchange student from the University of Hong Kong, double majoring in journalism and marketing. He lives in Knott Hall and has spent his life back and forth between Hong Kong and the East Coast.

Contact Samuel