Students, staff search for ways to reduce food waste after sharing table idea rejected

By Reina Werth, Copy Editor

Food waste is defined as the discarding of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption, and it is a large problem in America.

Nearly 40 percent of available food is discarded every year in the United States, which is more than in any other region of the world. This problem is especially evident in schools like Indian Trail High School & Academy.

“One of my friends was eating, and he only took one bite out of his food and then just threw it away,” said Darrel Washington, a Communications Academy junior.

Indian Trail administration sees the food waste problem as well.

“There are a lot of issues, and some of them are under our control,” said Maria Kotz, Indian Trail’s principal. “There are a lot of federal guidelines to food, and what can be served and how it can be served.”

These guidelines include how much food must be served to constitute a meal. While Indian Trail has a la carte options, those students who are on free and reduced lunch are required to take a full meal, which is two fruit options, two vegetable options, a main course, and a milk. Because of these guidelines, students are required to take food that they may not eat due to either short lunch periods, or it may just be too much food for the student.

What do kids on free and reduced lunch do when they get food they are required to take, but don’t want? “They just chuck it. So I think it would be nicer if we didn’t have to force kids to waste things they don’t want to eat,” said Kotz

One teacher at Indian Trail had an idea to help solve the food waste issue, as well as another issue.

“So much of the food (students) receive in the food line gets wasted. Thrown away without even being opened,” said Jane Palmen, an Indian Trail Academic Intervention Services and Leadership teacher.

The idea was to put the unopened food that would be going into the garbage onto a table where, if kids were still hungry, they could come and pick up food that was left, Palmen said.

Some students support the creation of a food sharing table at Indian Trail.

“I think it’s a really good idea because a lot of food at our school does go to waste, and it’s kind of sad because there are people who aren’t in [the free and reduced lunch program], and there are people who just don’t have money who often go hungry,” said Sam Reeves, a Communications Academy junior.

Due to health and safety concerns, and federal regulations, the idea was turned down.

“When I first hear that idea, it sounds great,” said Kotz, “But I had to share that with the central offices, and they brought up a lot of concerns, which is why we are not allowed to do something like a sharing table. In part, you’re putting food out there, you’ve gotta make sure you can monitor the safety of it, you can’t make sure everyone’s washed their hands before they, let’s say, pick up an apple, and now they’re spreading those germs and contaminants and so forth.”

Though Kenosha Unified School District expressed their concerns regarding a food sharing table, the United States Department of Agriculture has published a memo which offers guidelines for creating sharing tables, calling them “an innovative strategy to encourage the consumption of nutritious foods and reduce food waste.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction published a memo reaffirming the USDA’s sharing table guidelines, so long as the sharing table complies with all state and local food safety regulations.

“The Kenosha County Health Department is not in favor of our doing this from a health and safety perspective. Many newer district employees have forgotten the Hepatitis A outbreak we experienced, and norovirus and allergy stuff is always a concern,” said the KUSD’s Food Services department.

Despite the food sharing table not going through, Indian Trail’s principal has several ideas on how best to reduce food waste, including creating a larger variety of options, and incorporating healthier choices, like a salad bar.

“I would love to see fresher options for students,” said Kotz, who recognizes that this change would have to be made at a district, or even federal level.