Trayless: more than a waste issue

by Monica Everett

Usually when the issue of trayless dining arises, the conversation is all about waste.

Waste is important, but I think there’s a more important issue here, one that we want promote instead of discourage: connectedness.

My experience in the dining halls was, in a word, rushed. Grab as much food as possible, as quickly as possible, scarf down what’s edible  and throw the rest away.

I was usually left with a feeling of emptiness, and a longing for dinner around the table back home, and not just because the food tasted better there.

Alvina Lopez, a journalism student at Ashford College, touched on this yesterday in a blog posted to Wasted Food. You can read the full post there, but here’s my favorite part:

“I myself was at first cynical about traylessness. I didn’t think it would make much of difference, regardless of the intentions behind the initiative. But then after a week or two, I noticed substantive changes in my own behavior and my fellow diners’.  People stayed at meals longer. We ate more slowly, since those who wanted seconds waited until the foot traffic slowed down. The whole experience just became more enjoyable and relaxed. And, being someone who was raised to be sensitive about food waste, I noticed specifically that trashcans were not overflowing when I left the cafeteria.

Eventually the grumbling about the lack of trays subsided, grumbling that I suspect comes with adjusting to pretty much any change from the normal routine…Having made the trayless transition, I firmly believe that all schools should try it out, and not simply give up after a few weeks of student complaints.  It’s really such a simple idea, one that encourages more mindful dining.”

I am coming to realize that mindfulness, after awareness, is the next step to a sustainable society. Mindfulness of the cycle, the connections that bring food, products, and people to and away from us, is essential. Today, those connections are often invisible, allowing our minds to focus only on the immediate circumstances instead of on the complex consequences of our actions.

In November I will be attending a conference at UC Davis through the Agricultural Sustainability Institute that will focus on “Making the Invisible Visible” I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, think about where you go, what you buy, and what you eat. How are these things made possible?

For a look at consumerism and what it’s doing to our psyches, watch Shop Til you Drop. Don’t let the cheesy title scare you away.

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