Commons Courtsey Revisited

This Monday, I was one of the lucky day students required to do Commons duty. This is usually an honor reserved for boarders, because many day students, myself included, are able to go home to enjoy a delicious, home-cooked meal (or microwave pizza). So it is only on a rare occasion that day students are summoned to help clean dishes in Commons. Honestly, I wasn’t tickled with delight at the thought of scraping utensils for an hour. The thought of dealing with plates of half-eaten food and glasses of strange concoctions of mixed juices made me queasy. My stomach completely flip-flopped when I learned that the dinner on Monday was beef-pot-pie and stuffed shells: two of the messiest plates served by Commons. Once given plastic gloves and aprons, we dove right in, dumping food into a huge garbage bin and stacking plates. I was instantly stunned by the vast quantities of food that come into the dish room: the stacks of trays piled high with full plates kept trafficking in. I experienced in a hands-on way that Phillips Academy, as a school, wastes immense quantities of food each and every day. Students are very indecisive when it comes to meal choices. On any given tray, there could be three different plates with half-eaten entrees, discarded for something else. One student picked at a salad before deciding to get a plate of pot pie, which they hardly ate, before realizing that they were in the mood for cereal. This student stacked each plate of food on a tray in the metal racks without a second thought where this food goes. The huge selection of food offered at Commons is the cause for this indecision. If we were given fewer options, we probably would be more inclined to eat what we were given. But because we have the freedom of eating whatever we choose, we are more inclined to browse and sample before settling on a meal choice. I am as guilty of this style of eating as anyone else. Sometimes it takes a few walks through the serving area before I can decide what food I am in the mood for. Sometimes I ask for a heaping portion of an entrée and decide three bites into it that I don’t like stir-fry. It should be expected that lots of food is wasted through irresolution. But the buffet style of Commons and the huge selection of food that is offered to us lend themselves to our grazing eating habits. The set-up of Commons is, in itself, a cause for the waste of the vast quantities of food. I am not complaining. The selection of food must be wide and varying to accommodate the different needs of different diets. As diners, we must try to make more concise decisions about the food we grab from the line. We should also make a mo sre concerted effort to take only the amount of food that we can eat. Commons servers tend to pile plates high with vast portions of food, but it’s ok to ask for a smaller portion if you don’t think that you are going to eat it all. By taking only the food that we eat, we could dramatically cut the amount of wasted food in Commons. As I scraped food out of dishes and dumped drinks out of glasses, I remembered what my tray looked like when I put it away. As our school moves towards creating resourceful and environmentally friendly campus, there is no better place to begin than in the dining halls of campus.