Reducing Food Waste: My tour of the Demske Culinary Support Center

Have you ever thought about how much food you throw away?

If you’re like the average North American, it’s probably more than you think:  a 2011 Food and Agriculture Organization study found that typical per capita waste in the industrialized nations of North America and Europe is about 95-115 kg (210-254 lb) per year. Worldwide, about a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. That amounts to about 1.3 billion tons a year!

These statistics are alarming for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that all that unused food could be being used to feed the world’s hungry. According to the website of a UN-sponsored project to reduce waste, Think.Eat.Save, if even a quarter of the food that is currently lost or wasted could be saved, it could provide enough food to feed 780 million hungry people all over the world. However, unused food also means wasted resources such as energy, water and land.  Methane released from decaying food in landfills also contributes to global warming.

Luckily, simply being aware of the problem of food waste can be a huge step toward making smarter and more sustainable choices with the food we buy and throw away. In fact, Miami is already on a great path toward reducing the amount of food wasted by dining halls.

To find out more, I donned a hairnet and coat to take a tour through the epicenter of food production at Miami: the Demske Culinary Support Center.

According to my tour guide Eric Yung, Executive Chef of Student Dining, the center produces 20,000 meals a day that are sent to multiple dining locations and markets. It handles one million pounds of produce a year. Given the sheer volume of food that comes through the center, the potential for waste is enormous. However, there are many ways that waste is being reduced.

The primary defense is that every step of the food production is centralized, meaning nothing is being produced outside of the center. Purchasing, marketing, menu planning and special diet considerations are all handled right at Demske. Bags of prepared ingredients are stored in labeled, vacuum-sealed bags that prolong the life of perishable goods such as vegetables, again reducing waste. The individual dining halls can then order what they need for the next day up until 10 p.m. the preceding night, which minimizes guesswork and over-ordering.

The dining halls are equipped with online tracking systems and a historical database that can monitor exactly how much food is consumed. This allows them to spot trends in student dining habits and change their ordering accordingly. Additionally, dining halls keep an overproduction log to keep track of how much remains. This information allows the support center to consider changing portion sizes or other factors. For example, if only 20 servings are consistently taken out of a 24-serving tray of lasagna, the support center can adjust the amount of food in the pan so that it only serves 20, thus reducing waste.

As for the food waste that is produced through meal processing, Miami works in conjunction with Compost Cincinnati, a company that takes food scraps and turns them into compost for use by local farms and Miami itself. Additionally, some current dining locations and all of the new locations are equipped with their own in-house composting systems that turn food waste into a fertile, fragrant mulch product that can be used for Miami’s landscaping needs and for surrounding farmers. And composted material isn’t the only way Miami gives back: before every break, the staff at the culinary center takes stock of the perishable goods left over and donates them to a local food bank, so instead of being thrown away, the excess food goes to people who really need it.

If you’d like to contribute to reducing food waste at Miami, there are a few easy things to keep in mind.

Remember that you don’t have to load up your plate right away; you can always go back for seconds. Taking more than you can eat causes dining halls to overestimate that amount of food that they need and increases the amount of food that eventually has to be thrown away.

Also, the Demske Culinary Support Center welcomes any feedback that students have regarding food. They’ll make what we’ll eat! If you think a portion size is too big, or would like to see something appear more frequently on the menu, the center takes student suggestions into consideration for menu planning.

Speak up! Everyone can make a difference in reducing waste at Miami.

Contact the Demske Culinary Support Center Office: (513) 529-3040


By: Kayla Chapa

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