Aug. 5, 2010

Trayless dining is the standard for ISU Dining

by Anne Krapfl

For the first time, freshmen arriving on campus this fall won't be introduced to two longstanding fixtures in college dining rooms -- cafeteria-style lines and dining trays. Both have been eliminated from ISU Dining's three residential dining centers: the Union Drive Marketplace, Seasons in the Maple-Willow-Larch commons and the just-opened Conversations, the renovated facility at Oak-Elm residence halls.

Trayless dining has been shown to reduce food waste while conserving water and the human labor needed to clean trays. Without a tray to load up with plates and cups, students tend to take what they can carry -- and eat -- which means less food ends up in the garbage.

"Last year, more than 3,300 students who weren't required to, voluntarily purchased meal plans (up from 2,700 the year before)."

Nancy Levandowski, ISU Dining

ISU Dining director Nancy Levandowski said a student study last year showed twice as much food waste per person at the Union Drive Marketplace, in its final year of trays, as at Seasons, which piloted trayless dining on campus. Levandowski said food costs also were 3 percent less at the Maple Willow Larch facility.

Technically, the ISU campus qualifies for the trayless designation because its all-you-care-to-eat venues are trayless. ISU Dining's cafes will continue to have trays available, but food waste is less of an issue there, Levandowski said.

"When you're buying items individually, you tend to eat what you paid for," she said.

ISU Dining adds its food waste to the university's compost facility at the new dairy farm south of Ames. This summer, food pulpers were added to the dishwashing room in the Union Drive and Oak Elm dining centers. The renovated Maple-Willow-Larch dining center opened with one last summer.

Levandowski said pulpers don't change what qualifies for composting in the dining centers; just the format it's in when it's transported to the composting facility.

Where's the line?

Cafeterias with "the line" have been replaced by dining centers that feature a half dozen or more stations at which a variety of entrees and side dishes are prepared and served. Levandowski said it's how student dining has evolved. But she's also quick to note that dining is a student service.

"This is their program. Last year, more than 3,300 students who weren't required to, voluntarily purchased meal plans (up from 2,700 the year before)," she said. "Not every student gets exactly what they ask for, but this is a service we provide.

"My job is to listen to the requests (from a campus food committee), tell them what it will cost to put it in a meal plan, and then ask if they still want it."