Green Coat & Small Plates Tackle WNC Hunger & Food Waste

Nov 12, 2019

This week community advocates, education and business leaders from across the region are gathering in Asheville to tackle an issue that has connections to both climate change and hunger - food waste.   Some of the most creative and successful solutions are happening on college campuses.  BPR's Helen Chickering visited UNC Asheville where some small changes are making a big difference.

“We are in Brown Hall lobby; brown hall is the main dining hall in UNC Asheville”

It’s a Thursday morning and the smell of breakfast is wafting through the air of Brown Hall where Meghan Ibach, UNCA’s Dining Services Sustainability Manager is leading an informal tour

“We’ve got our build your own smoothie bar, omelet station,” says Ibach.

It’s a big modern space with a menu of food stations, tall windows and restaurant style seating, but what most is striking is what you don’t see.

“Several years ago we got rid of trays,” says Ibach, “because when you are in an all you can eat dining facility easy to put extra food in your plate and in your hands, so we got rid of trays to get rid of food waste.”

And that’s not all; plates and bowls are smaller to help people think twice before they load up. Much of the food that isn’t eaten gets donated to the the nonprofit Food Connection where it’s taken to shelters, after school programs and other places in the area.

“If it’s like this tempeh and roasted vegetables, maybe these veggie sausages.”

The rejects head to the compost bin and as the tour continues we step into the kitchen where we’re greeted by UNCA Cook Wilson Hawes who stands out in a green chef’s coat.

HC, “So tell me what the green coat means.”

“So the green coat means that I help keep an eye on the kitchen staff make sure people are using the compost buckets, making sure compost goes into the compost bin and make sure it’s weighed out, measured out in quarts.  And on top of that, I call people out for recycling, if they’ve got recyclables in the trash can.”

He takes his green coat title seriously and told us his line alone will fill anywhere from 12 to 24 quart   buckets with compost a day... all that plus the uneaten food in the dining hall is dumped into big carts that are rolled into a garage area below and that’s where Jackie Hamstead picks up the tour, she’s UNCA’s campus operation environmental specialist

“So you have an idea of  the scale, we have  20 of these 64 gallon roll carts and they get picked up 3 times a week and so that’s the amount of what we’re  putting out at this location.  The average academic building might have 2 roll cats so definitely the bulk coming from our dining halls

Hampstead says in 2018 – the campus composted 150 tons.    Tons that didn’t end up in the landfill, but as good as that sounds, the University’s goal is actually to see that number go down.  Here’s Meghan Ibach.  

Kiera Bulan, Jackie Hamstead and Meghan Iban in the UNCA Dining Hall.
Credit BPR News

“Really the goal of this whole program is to be composting less. I think there is opportunity for our kitchen to be utilizing more and food scraps more than we are. And with the Food Connection Program, are there things we’re composting that we could be donating?”

And that kind of thinking is at the core of Asheville’s Second Annual Food Waste Summit

“Food waste is the next thing, I think our goal is to make this pedestrian, “says Kiera Bulan, one of the Summit organizers and the coordinator of the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council.

“I think our goal is to make this pedestrian to make this something that is something in our general lexicon, it’s what you do with food scraps, you don’t make food waste, and the waste you do make we figure out what to do with it responsibly” says Bulan, “that’s what’s so inspiring about food as an entry point to any of these conversation around climate around social justice, is that we all eat, every day, several times a day.”

A conversation that is happening this week on the UNCA campus, I’m Helen Checkering, BPR News.

Click here to find out more about the Food Waste Summit.