Most cooks discard pepper tops and stems as unusable food scraps. For campus chefs Russ Palmer, Tony Picinotti and Frank Turchan, however, these scraps had hidden potential to become hummus served at a buffet dinner Tuesday night. 

The WasteLESS event featured dishes with recycled ingredients and a panel to inform roughly 40 attendees on food waste and preventative practices. According to Claire Prenevost, Planet Blue Student Leader and LSA senior, the event was a joint collaboration between MDining, Planet Blue Student Leaders and the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program. 

“It’s really just a natural pairing of people being able to sit down and then gain more in-depth information from people that have more experience in their career and personal lives,” Prenevost said. “Then (they will) be able to take that information and, as consumers, apply it in their everyday lives.”

The panel, moderated by LSA freshman Hannah Kim, consisted of Palmer; Urban Planning Professor Lesli Hoey; Jennifer Petoskey, city of Ann Arbor solid waste outreach and compliance specialist; and LSA sophomore Chase Dautrich.

Palmer shared the procedures campus chefs practice to reduce waste and recycle dining leftovers. In addition to training kitchen staff, he emphasized the importance of cross-utilization of ingredients in reducing waste in menus. 

“Food waste is at the forefront of all chefs’ minds,” Palmer said. “For chefs, it’s about training, really … It’s always an ongoing process.” 

To inform attendees on procedures taken on a university-wide scale, Hoey shared her experience co-leading the Internal Analysis Food Team on the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality. According to Hoey, the team’s mission is to broadly analyze anything related to food on the University of Michigan’s three campuses. In an effort to reduce carbon emissions, Hoey said the team suggests waste-preventing procedures before food is prepared and suggests protocol to follow after waste has been produced. 

“A major part of what we are going to suggest is some systems that better keep track of what we’re actually wasting still — even despite certain initiatives — and also try to understand what the impact is once you do implement more initiatives,” Hoey said. 

Hoey said the team is facing a lack of data concerning food waste and composting on the campuses. Hoey said her team struggles with a fragmented system of food production, consisting of units such as athletics, medicine, dining and autonomous consumption in schools. 

Hoey noted about 40 percent of food waste occurs at the retail and customer levels. She said this means changes on the individual level will make the largest impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

As someone who has always had a problem with throwing food away, Hoey said that she will even eat off others’ plates when feasible to prevent leftovers from being discarded. Adding to personal examples, Palmer shared that if he cannot find a way to utilize food scraps, he will feed them to his chickens at home. 

“It is something we constantly talk about,” Palmer said. “It is extremely important that we use our foods to the fullest.”

According to Prenevost, one of the steps in reducing waste at the event was using an RSVP list to estimate how much food would be needed. Prenevost said she believes this can help prevent excessive leftovers at campus events. 

LSA junior Anastasia Bergeron said she signed up to expand what she has learned through Net Impact, a student organization collaborating with businesses for environmental and social impact. 

“Food waste is really an interesting topic that I just never heard about before,” Bergeron said. “I was interested in learning more … I always knew it was good for the environment, but I never really knew scientifically why it’s so much better to compost.”

Dautrich discussed his involvement with the Food Recovery Network. The organization will host a regional summit on campus on April 4. Dautrich shared that his main goal in reducing waste was increasing conversation among students. 

“One big way that people can promote sustainable food systems is just talking about it,” Dautrich said. “I feel like communication is one of the biggest challenges for this generation. There are a lot of problems, but there’s also a lot of solutions. Maybe they just haven’t been able to spread yet.”

Reporter Ayse Eldes can be reached at

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