Opinion: Students abuse free lunch policy, create large amounts of waste

Amy Wang, Editor-in-Chief

Graphic by Amy Wang.

Westview has always been a scenic campus, but recently there have been some new attractions. Pass by a cafeteria window during the lunch period, and it’s easy to see piles of discarded food portions, which range from applesauce cups to green salads, still in their rustling plastic bags. 

This development is especially striking around where the lunch lines congregate. There’s something almost picturesque about the stray red and white cartons stacked next to the lunch windows, about the ease with which people drop their unwanted food on the ground and leave them there. 

I’m sure we’ve all seen what goes on at lunch. Sometimes I walk up to the window and someone dumps an entire box of dried fruit into the trash can next to me. Sometimes students pick up their food from the window and simply leave what they don’t want on the ledge until by the time we hear the bell, there are mountains of untouched food there. 

Yet inevitably, this food always ends up in the trash, cleared away by custodians who now need to deal with nearly three times as much waste as before. Now that more people are lining up to get lunch, it’s inevitable for there to be more trash too, and yet the amount of food waste is shocking.

This isn’t to say that we’re all terrible people for doing what so many of our classmates are doing too. As someone who bought lunch before the pandemic, and now receives a free meal every day, I sympathize with those who find it difficult to consume everything they get, because there are days on which I simply do not want to eat everything I get. Lunch portions are, after all, bountiful. There’s always fresh fruit and vegetables, and a grain product, say nothing of the main portion. And sometimes the vegetables I get aren’t always my favorite. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for a box of raisins. Like many classmates, there have been days on which I’m simply not up to finishing that stray carton of applesauce, on top of everything else I’ve already eaten.

Yet it’s important for me, and for the rest of the student body, to see beyond just what’s in our paper plates and to realize the time and effort that goes into the preparation of the food we get. To have each portion of our meals harvested and processed and shipped here is no small undertaking on its own, even outside of all the effort that goes into the maintenance of food integrity and freshness preservation. The cafeteria is tasked with preparing nearly 5,000 lunches every day, and it’s a shame that so much of their hard work goes straight into the dumpster. 

We’re fortunate enough to get free meals at Westview, and as students, we should appreciate the privilege of being able to walk up to the lunch window and receive a healthy meal.