Through my four years at Wake Forest, I never considered the campus to be exceptionally environmentally conscious. My hometown is Seattle, WA, is a city widely recognized for many of its earth friendly initiatives. These initiatives include carbon neutrality from the public electric utility company, city-wide composting, the encouragement and prevalence of bike commuters and many others sustainability efforts.
In 2014, Seattle became only the second city in the U.S. to receive the prestigious 5-STAR Community rating from STAR Communities. To date, only three other cities have received that level of recognition.
I grew up in a very environmentally conscious city, and being aware of my individual environmental impact has always been a part of my life. The smallest actions, like turning out the light when you leave the room, not eating meat for a meal or buying a reusable water bottle can have huge effects. When people ask me the biggest difference between living in Seattle and living at Wake Forest, the first thing to mind is almost always the lack of environmental awareness about simple things like food.
One of the biggest differences in daily life I have noticed between my hometown and Wake Forest is the lack of composting and the prevalence of food waste. When I lived on campus, my favorite spot to eat was the Pit (rarely known as the Fresh Food Company). The Pit has many charms; it’s centrally located, usually quick, varied in options, and “all you can eat” for just one swipe. It’s not surprising that the Pit sees the largest percentage of the Wake Forest student body every day. What is surprising, however, is that the Pit doesn’t compost post-meal food waste. It is the largest dining hall on campus, and the only one where a student can load up as many plates as they could possibly desire, but it doesn’t compost any of the leftover food from those who dish up more than they can finish. Anyone who has eaten at the Pit during rush hour can easily remember a time when the rotating dirty dish station was full of half-eaten plates.
While food waste generated during meal preparation is gathered and sent to Gallins Family Farm as compost, the all you can eat nature of the Pit encourages diners to pile high their plates with much more than they can finish. That excess food is thrown away, completely wasted. Even the North Dining Hall tries to compost all of its food waste from both pre and post serving. Unfortunately, the system is confusing and many students don’t end up using it, but at least the dining hall tries.
Luckily, not all campus food production results in waste. Campus Kitchen, a student-run organization, has been operating for 12 years, distributing meals all over the Winston-Salem community. By doing so they have saved literal tons of delicious food from the dumpster. While also providing a needed service to the community, the continued operation of Campus Kitchen has drastically cut down on food waste from all over campus. Many of the meals they distribute are recovered from various campus dining locations. That food has been prepared, but not served, and is still fresh, clean and edible. Campus Kitchen also distributes fresh produce from Campus Garden, another incredible student-run organization. Campus Garden grows food in a sustainable way, using regenerative agriculture techniques that don’t exhaust the soil of nutrients and will allow the garden to thrive for years. While Wake Forest has a long way to go before it can be called a leader in eliminating food waste, I have been impressed by the initiative of some of Wake Forest’s environmentally conscious students. Hopefully, the Pit can follow the lead of its diners towards the overall goal of zero food waste.