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Save the Trays

| Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We’re given two arguments for going trayless: reduction of food waste and waster usage. The placards that have been showing up in the dining hall state that going trayless saves 70 gallons of water per day. We’ll take that as true. The flow rate of an efficient showerhead is approximately two gallons per minute, so for a 10 minute shower you’re already at 20 gallons. Now we have the perspective that taking away everyone’s trays is equivalent in water usage to three or four people skipping their daily shower, an inconsequential amount.

The claim was made that taking away dining hall trays reduces food waste by 32 percent. A simple thinker might take these numbers and run, saying that the key to preventing food waste is banning trays, but the claim has no logical basis. This phenomenon is more a social/psychological experiment than a practical cause of food waste. I don’t doubt that seeing a big empty tray may compel some people to fill it with more food, but there’s no practical reason to take more food.

We need to consider the tray dilemma more critically. Some questions need asking. Is the inconvenience of going trayless worth the benefits? Is abandonment of the tray necessary to achieve these benefits?

I’ll tackle the simpler question first. A la National Tray Association, I’ll boldly make the claim that trays don’t waste food, people waste food. Every person has complete control of what goes on their tray. The banning of trays is an insult to the ability of students to take responsibility for their food waste. In the reverse, food waste is equally possible without the use of trays, so banning isn’t even an effective method of control. The use of trays doesn’t influence food waste in any necessary way. Mindfulness is more effective as tray control, and there are other campus-wide methods that have greater potential and less negative impact. One interesting idea is serving the food by the size of a serving to make people less likely to take more than they can finish, and if they need more they can always go back for seconds. This is the kind of food waste prevention I’d be excited to participate in.

I mentioned the water usage of showering, but no one is proposing restricting showers. That’s because it’d be a huge and infringing inconvenience. The tray case isn’t quite as extreme, but we need to analyze it in the same way. Consider the price of the meal plan, and the ways we already waste much of that cost when we can’t make it to the strict meal times. Most of us end up wasting many of our meals at the end of the week, so the meals we do put to use should be quality.

I have breakfast in the dining hall often, and breakfast is notoriously a small-bowl affair. There’s a small bowl for grapefruit, one for potatoes, maybe some oatmeal, a bagel, etc. That’s not to mention beverages — hydrate with water, coffee for the caffeine fix and a nice glass of orange juice. And at North Dining Hall,  the front tray return is never in service so all those dishes need to be carried to the back. The other thing about breakfast — you have to make it to your morning classes so you don’t have time to go back and forth to your seat multiple times. If trays were abolished, we’d have to cut down the workload because students here do not have time to deal with trayless meals.

If you’re not confident in your ability to refrain from wasting food with all that empty space on your tray, or you simply don’t require a tray for a particular meal, then feel free to go trayless. I care about the environment as much as anyone, but the tray-banning argument is simply not logical.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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