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The rationality of dining hall guilt

Julie Zorb | Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In this month’s issue of Scholastic, Chris Milazzo suggests in his essay “On Guilt” that it’s irrational to feel guilty when failing to clear one’s plate in the dining hall. Milazzo flippantly reasons that “my unfinished sandwich, eaten or not, will not save the starving babies” and therefore, we need not worry about the food we waste in the dining hall.

Yes, Chris, you’re right, the food from the half sandwich you didn’t eat would not have been airmailed to Africa had you not put it on your plate. But your waste of resources is still, in fact, quite wasteful and worthy of guilt. The half sandwich left on your plate today may not seem like much, but consider the implications of every student taking an extra half sandwich at every meal, every day.

Incidentally, that is roughly what happens in our dining halls each day. Measurements from the most recent “waste’n’weigh” day at the dining halls estimate that the average student wastes 6.27 ounces of food per meal. That’s 1.25 TONS of food wasted per day. And friends, that’s just ridiculous.

Look, I’m a reasonable girl — I know the occasional regrettable food choice in the dining hall is unavoidable and some food waste is going to happen. I’m not asking you to make yourself sick finishing the three large scoops of a new casserole you took a chance on in the veggie line that turned out to be soggy and bland. I’m just asking you to only take one scoop at first. Take reasonable portions — going back for seconds is one of the greatest joys of buffet-style dining. Even I can’t claim to be a perfect member of the clean plate club, but I can promise you that I do feel guilty, and rationally so, when I leave uneaten food on my plate.

My guilt stems from a simple calculation of supply and demand: the amount of food we put on our trays at each meal affects the amount of food ordered by Food Services. The amount of food ordered by Food Services affects the amount of food produced by their suppliers. The amount of food produced by their suppliers affects the amount of resources consumed in the planting, processing and transportation of that food. So when you waste food in the dining hall you’re also wasting all of the resources that went into the production of that food. Resources like grain that we actually could be sending to famine-stricken areas of the globe, like Africa. Resources like gasoline, whose carbon emissions are contributing to global climate change, which is having the largest negative effects where? That’s right, you guessed it, the number one thing Notre Dame students like, Africa.

And it all starts with the choices we make when loading our trays in the dining hall. Feeling guilty yet?


Julie Zorb


Walsh Hall

Oct. 12