Down Reed’s Drains: Food Waste in Commons

You’re eating your meal on a delightful Friday dinner. Commons is bustling with people – loud, crowded, ready for the weekend. As your friends get up from their seats, finishing their meals, you follow them to the dish return all the way at the back of Commons. You didn’t really get a chance to finish your food, but it’s okay. It was an early dinner, and you weren’t that hungry; apparently, there’s no harm in not finishing your food. After all, Reed composts, so anything you don’t finish won’t get ‘wasted’. Or will it? 

Most of the food will not be wasted. A Bon Appétit employee at Reed, who asked to remain anonymous, estimates that only 15-20% of all food at Commons is really thrown away. The rest of the 80-85% is either composted, reused, or given to shelters. But things weren’t always this way.

Before the pandemic, there was the Scrounge Table, where students who purchased food from Bon Appétit could add their leftovers to a pile, and those who did not pay for meals ‘scrounge’ from the table. According to a Bon Appétit employee, for years, Bon Appétit chefs requested that the Scrounge Table be removed from Commons due to concerns around classism and hygiene, but the student body continued to advocate for the idea of scrounging. However, due to COVID-19 and the switch from an all-you-can-eat model to a metered, order-and-serve model, the Scrounge Table was officially omitted from Commons in 2020, and Commons workers and students do not see it being reinstituted anytime soon. 

In absence of Scrounging, the food that is not consumed or shared is composted. The food that is uneaten but fresh is given to Urban Gleaners, an organization that takes food that is still consumable and donates it to homeless shelters around Portland. Lastly, for the small proportion of food that is cooked, fresh, and wasn’t sold (such as chicken that did not completely sell through the Daily Planet), it is reused in other meals for the next day, such as the soups. Those three categories make up 80-85% of food that is not thrown away, according to the Bon Appétit management. 

Waste at Commons has been decreased by closely controlling the number of menu items and the amount of ingredients used (i.e. curries for Carve, Tortillas for the Melange, etc.). General Manager Matt Talavera oversees the basic operations of Bon Appétit at Reed, while Executive Chef Jesse Fairman supervises the cooking throughout the stations. In an interview, Talavera explained that 95% of all food is produced in house. “Because many of our cooks have been at Reed for 5+ years, we know the buying patterns of the community and estimate production amounts very closely”, Talavera said. Executive Chef Fairman mentioned that the waste which goes to trash is separated into the correct categories of recycling, trash, compost, and glass. Fairman and Talavera confidently stated that minimizing food waste is “a part of Bon Appétit’s mission,” and therefore the staff strives to do so with careful regulation. However, according to Talavera and Fairman, “that doesn’t mean that Reedies can’t further minimize food waste.”

Both Talavera and Fairman encourage the community to eat as much of the food as possible – either by simply finishing their plates, splitting meals with friends or by packing it in to-go boxes to eat later in the day. For to-go boxes, they encourage participating in the eco-container program. Moreover, the employees are accommodating to specific requests of food quantity. They even give out samples to students who want to taste the food before deciding to purchase.

Additionally, Talavera and Fairman ask the Reed community to reduce the use of paper to-go containers and bags. Although food waste is minimized, it is difficult to limit the amount of paper being used on a daily basis through mobile orders and students asking for additional paper containers. As an alternative, Talavera and Fairman suggest eco-containers. In fact, students can use eco-containers for the mobile order too. For that, in the additional info section of the mobile order, students need to mention using an eco-container and need to bring a token or an old eco-container to the go-station as they scan the QR code!

When asked if there was something they would like the Reed community to know, Talavera and Fairman expressed their gratitude for the students’ feedback and how respectful members of the community are. Hopefully, that small amount of food thrown out will become smaller and smaller as the years go on with the effort of Reedies like you and me.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


We would love your thoughts, please comment!x
%d bloggers like this: