Photo by Zoë Hu/The Gazelle

ADNH and Student Committtee Put Food Waste on the Agenda

Every day, 75 kg of food is wasted in the leftovers scraped from trays, bowls and plates at the cleaning counters of NYU Abu Dhabi’s dining venues. ...

Feb 7, 2015

Photo by Zoë Hu/The Gazelle
Every day, 75 kg of food is wasted in the leftovers scraped from trays, bowls and plates at the cleaning counters of NYU Abu Dhabi’s dining venues. This is equal to 500 apples thrown out per day. On campus, the amount of food wasted over the course of 10 days would weigh the same as a larger-than-average polar bear.
The university’s catering contractor, ADNH Compass, calculated this figure for food waste at the beginning of the month, collecting deposited trays at The Marketplace, East Dining Hall and West Dining Hall and then taking the average of leftover food amassed during three consecutive days. The figure does not include food wasted in take-out containers, or food prepared by the kitchen that is not purchased and cannot be saved.
“Meal Club and the Salad Bar are the greatest offenders,” said Nicholas Freeman, marketing manager for the NYUAD Project at ADNH. “Meal Club has by far the highest customer wastage, because of the all-you-care-to-eat tag. Indeed, if you look at the clearing stations during any lunch period you’ll see red-rimmed plates stacked with piles of uneaten food.”
In order to address issues surrounding food waste, ADNH will be launching a campaign called Foodprint on Feb. 8 in order to raise awareness on the intersection of food and sustainability at NYUAD.
Measures will include educational posters and infographics, as well as full-scale models weighing exactly 75 kg erected in the dining halls. These installations will be made of real food, and Freeman suggested that they may help the community visualize what food waste looks like at NYUAD, adding that food in the models will not be thrown away but instead later reused.
The Sustainability Committee, a Student Government committee founded last semester, has been working in tandem with ADNH to decide what kind of university-level changes may combat food waste.
“[ADNH is] going to start [the campaign] up just to show people [that] this is the amount of food you’re wasting on a daily basis; to send a really powerful message across,” said freshman Ritu Muralidharan, a member of the eight person-committee. “Just so that it’s really visible to people the impact of what they’re doing.”
After conducting research into dining habits, the Sustainability Committee submitted a proposal to ADNH on reducing tray usage in its dining ventures.
“We feel that trays definitely contribute to people picking up more food than they can actually eat,” said Muralidharan. “So we [would like to] draw that to the attention of the dining halls.”
Initially, the Sustainability Committee had considered requesting that the dining halls go almost completely without trays. However, based on student feedback, committee members decided to try easing the community into reduced tray usage instead. The Sustainability Committee and ADNH representatives have discussed various ways to do this, including hanging signs by tray piles or even placing water bottles filled with the amount of water used in cleaning each tray — up to 1.5 liters in a typical cafeteria, according to the committee.
Although the Foodprint campaign explicitly addresses only consumer waste, general waste is a consideration for the staff at NYUAD’s kitchens as well.
“The kitchen has got food waste on the agenda,” said Freeman. “[We are] blast-chilling portions so [food] is produced and then blast-chilled … and then we only put it on the counter if it’s required. If not, because it’s been blast-chilled in a safe way it can be used at a different time.”
Freeman said blast-chilling at NYUAD follows HACCP protocol, an approach that is recommended by the United Nation’s body on international standards for food safety.
Although there was no available data on food wasted in kitchen preparation, Freeman added that ADNH’s target wastage figure is approximately 5% of whatever food gets made.
As NYUAD enters the spring semester and the final stages of its Saadiyat transition, ADNH says it aims to gather more information on consumer demand to better understand how to reduce wastage.
“Mobilization is always tricky,” said Freeman. “We don’t have any historical data to go on, so we don’t know how much of X product we’re going to sell [and] therefore how much to produce. But as we get more information and work for longer on this campus, we should get better at reducing waste.”
Recent changes to the dining-scape at NYUAD include the closing of the West Dining Hall during weekends and dinner due to a perceived lack of demand on campus. Information on campus dining habits is collected through surveys, transaction data at check-out counters and the Sustainability Committee, which seeks to bridge ADNH and the larger student body.
“We try to assess what changes are required ourselves as well,” said Muralidharan. “But we definitely are a contact point between the students and the administration for issues related to sustainability.”
In the future, both Freeman and Muralidharan acknowledge that the introduction of sustainable takeout containers is a change they hope to enact after addressing food waste.
“We’re on this new campus now and we’re in this transitioning phase, so some aspects — some very visible, some not as visible — could be improved in terms of sustainability,” said Muralidharan, adding: “This semester, in terms of changes, we're focusing on the dining halls.”
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