Some of the discarded food that was part of the Food Waste Buffet at a Portland State University dining hall Portland State University

Some of the discarded food that was part of the Food Waste Buffet at a Portland State University dining hall.

Program shows Portland State students how much food they waste

The Food Waste Buffet is an effort to discourage students from wasting food in school dining halls.

Are you going to eat that?

The question is regularly asked of folks with food left on their plates, and many times the answer is no—especially at college dining halls where students are served buffet-style and often have eyes bigger than their stomachs. The result? Pounds upon pounds of items that could provide sustenance to people instead is scraped off those plates and ends up in a compost pile or a a landfill.

In an effort to discourage students from wasting food and educate students about healthful, responsible eating, the Campus Sustainability Office at Portland State University in Oregon has initiated a program with its food services provider, Aramark, to give students tangible evidence of what's being left behind in dining halls. It's called the Food Waste Buffet.

The buffet, which appeared last month at Portland State's Victor's Dining Hall, is a display of the uneaten entrees, side dishes and desserts that students have left on their plates after a meal. The pile of discarded food provided a visual reminder to students of how food waste adds up plate by plate to become a big deal. The sustainability office says about 160 billion pounds of food are wasted each year in the United States.

"With 40 percent of food wasted in the U.S. annually, awareness and behavior change around food waste is essential,” says Manar Alattar, Portland State's food diversion coordinator.

Accompanying the Food Waste Buffet is a chart detailing how much food is wasted in the United States

Seeing the Food Waste Buffet seems to get students thinking twice about wasting food. In November, the first time the waste buffet was used, students discarded 128 pounds of food throughout the week—about half of what they toss out in a normal week when their food waste is not on display, the sustainability office says.

The sustainability office plans on bringing back the waste buffet sometime in the spring term.

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