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Lack of standard food recovery program in Governor’s Corner dining societies means leftovers often get tossed

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The dining societies at Suites in Governor’s Corner are known by many for consistently serving some of the best food on campus. However, they lack a counterpart service to the R&DE food recovery program that collects and donates leftover food from dining halls — making some of these dining societies the site of food waste due to the leftovers produced at meals.

“A lot of leftovers are eaten by people in Suites but once a week they … throw out all the leftovers,” said Abby Taylor ’21, a member of the Avanti dining society. “And certain types of food don’t get stored — like one day when a bunch of berries were thrown out.”

Caroline McCormack, the chef at the Middle Earth dining society, has taken matters into her own hands. By strictly controlling the amount of time food is left out and the temperature at which the leftovers are stored, McCormack ensures the leftovers can be kept as long as possible to ensure constant availability of food for residents. She attempts to further reduce food waste by donating leftovers that will expire soon to a local organization that feeds people in need. Leftovers still in the fridge after five days are disposed of to ensure food quality and safety.

But this is not standard across all dining societies in Suites.

Each resident in Suites is placed into one of four dining societies depending on room assignment: Avanti, Beefeaters, Bollard and Middle Earth. A different chef serves at each one, and some of the dining societies even feature different themes. All of them, however, are managed by the Governor’s Corner Dining Society (GCDS), an “independent, student-run non-profit organization that has been operational on Stanford’s campus for over 30 years,” according to the organization’s website.

The chefs prepare enough food at each of the 17 meals served throughout the week for the residents and their weekly guests. Residents are instructed that they must only eat at the dining society they are assigned to “because the chefs must calibrate the food prepared to the members in their respective clubs,” according to the GCDS’s website. 

Students’ busy schedules sometimes conflict with set dining times.

“Dinners are definitely more attended than lunches. I think that a fair share of people miss meals, but it really fluctuates,” said Jonathan Flat ’22, a member of the Avanti dining society.  “I think lunch is more commonly skipped because of the schedules and the short lunchtime.”

For residents who are unable to attend a meal, Avanti and Middle Earth store the leftovers from the meal in the fridges that are accessible in the dining areas to be reheated at any time. The other two dining societies, Beefeaters and Bollards, employ a “late plate” system where residents can deposit a note ahead of mealtime notifying the kitchen that they will miss a meal and that a plate of food should be prepared for them and stored in the fridges. Leftovers at these societies are also stored in the fridge.

Kitchen Managers (KMs), students who are paid to manage dining-related operations, oversee this process at each dining society. Each KM is responsible for facilitating the washing of dishes and cleaning of the kitchen and dining areas, as well as storing leftovers from each meal. The excess collection of leftovers in the fridge, though, can lead to food going bad and being thrown away in some dining societies.

“We make leftovers on purpose and make sure to keep them under temperature and time control. Food can’t be more than seven days old,” Cole Paullin ’20, the KM at Middle Earth, wrote in a statement to the Daily. “People that get hungry later on in the day, or that want to eat over the weekend are free to do so.”

Paullin further underscored that, while there is food waste, Suites staff and students “work our very hardest to reduce it.”

The CEO of the GCDS did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

The system is different from how Greek and self-op houses — which are also separate from R&DE and managed by Student Organized Services (SOS) — deal with food waste and sustainability. 

To avert food waste and employ sustainable practices, SOS hires student interns to “implement initiatives that have been sourced from student interest, many of which focus on sustainability,” wrote Cole Shiflett, the Associate Dean of Residential Education, in a statement to The Daily. Nick Peters, the CEO of SOS, is on the board of the Stanford Food Recovery program (which began as SPOON) and is “dedicated to enabling student staff to employ sustainable practices,” Shiflett wrote.

While there’s still no streamlined food recovery system for GCDS, the issue of reducing food waste has often been the topic of campus discussion, especially in light of the food insecurity in the local area and even on campus. In the past, Stanford has been responsive to efforts to reduce food waste produced by dining halls. Seven years ago, Stanford’s Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) established its first food donation program and has expanded the program to each dining hall, with the support of student groups such as Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS) and the Stanford Food Recovery group.

This article’s photo caption has been updated to reflect that Caroline McCormack has sought to reduce food waste. It was also updated to include further information on efforts against food waste in Middle Earth.

Contact Justin Chang at jchang38 ‘at’ stanford.edu