Another Kind of Waste

I had such high hopes for the Chicago Tribune piece “Schools Promote Waste-Free Lunches.” When I read that headline, I thought of food waste, not packaging. As you can guess, the article is almost solely about the latter.

Yes, keeping food packaging from the landfill is a noble cause. But, I would argue, not as noble as preventing its contents from the same fate.

The piece discusses composting a bit, including an impressive level of separation (worm-friendly vs. hog-centric foods) in Duluth, Minn. But there’s no talk of reducing the amount of food wasted.

photo by ndanger via creative commonsWhy is that? My sense is that composting is an easy change. It doesn’t ask much of us, other than an extra step or two at the bin. Reducing waste can be a bit harder. What’s your take?

As an example, the article covers the composting of empty milk cartons lining the trash, but doesn’t talk about the full ones mixed into the bin.

And there’s almost always milk wasted. The USDA requires that all kids on the National School Lunch Program take a milk–even if kids say they’re not going to drink it. Oh, and the same policy exists for the entree, too.

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  1. Kate1946
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    When I was a sub I noticed the great amount of food waste. I saw the following almost always tossed:
    canned peas, fresh fruit and any meal where ice cream was the dessert.

    Reason: canned peas were horrible in smell, consistency and taste

    Fresh fruit – not enough time to eat

    Meals with ice cream for dessert – eat the ice cream before it melts and there’s no time for the rest of the meal

    My solution: 1. more time for lunch – half the lunch time seemed to be used for waiting in line
    2. serve what the kids will eat – green beans, corn and carrot sticks not peas
    3. smaller pieces of fresh fruit or at least cut up
    4. ice cream – maybe served once a month, not weekly, and with meals that are smaller, because ice cream is filling

    It only takes a couple of weeks to see what the kids eat and what gets tossed. Here’s one place a parent volunteer could really help.

  2. Posted September 29, 2009 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    This is an interesting subject and kind of one of the bad memories of my childhood. Growing up in the 1970s in a dairy farming area, we had a milk break at school every afternoon. The area where milk was stored was not cleaned all that often and so the new milk cartons usually smelled of sour milk. By the time the milk got to the classroom it wasn’t that cold anymore, which exacerbated the problem. The whole thing was an experience in suppressing one’s gag reflex, and you couldn’t not take a milk, and some teachers I had wouldn’t let us pour it out, either. This led to guilt trips and mess in addition to waste. I understand that the federal government is now invested in making sure school meals are nutritious, but it seems like kids should be allowed to refuse food they are not going to eat. It’s really the parent’s job, not the school’s, to ensure their child is eating healthily.

    I never ate canned vegetables from school lunch either as my mother said they had no nutritional value. We had frozen at home and that was fine. Industrial, institutional canned peas are really, really awful.

  3. Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I like those ideas, Kate. Especially noticing what is wasted and adjusting the menu accordingly. If it’s all vegetables, then it probably means they’re serving low-quality stuff. Of course, funding…

    Servetus–that sounds pretty traumatic. Ick. Even the name sounds kind of wrong: Milk break. But a good name for a band.

  4. Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    And right on the cue–the NY Times writes on the challenges of school lunch:

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