Debauched Cafeterias Go Trayless

Will sledding on college trays soon only be a sad, somewhat clich├ęd memory?

USA Today chimes in on what may (or may not) be an accelerating trend: colleges eliminating cafeteria trays to cut food waste, and not incidentally, food costs. The online magazine Inside Higher Ed first reported on this back in January, focusing on Alfred University in New York, which went trayless, as cafeteria professionals apparently call it, last semester. The university switched after a test semester showed that trayless meals drastically reduced food and drink waste.

Now USA Today reports that an “astonishing 79% of the 92,000 students surveyed this spring by Aramark said they support trayless dining to reduce campus waste.” It’s a result that seems at least a little suspect, since less food waste means, theoretically, higher profits for food providers like Aramark. But nevertheless, the story estimates that the majority of the nation’s colleges will eliminate trays within the next five years.

Of course, if there were more food worth putting on the trays, it might be harder to dispense with them. I mean, I’d have wasted a lot less food in college if so much of what I took hadn’t turned out to be inedible. What we need is next-level cafeteria thinking like this from economist (and DC-area ethnic eating guru) Tyler Cowen, in response to the Inside Higher Ed story: “If I ran a cafeteria I would consider abolishing utensils, thereby encouraging South Indian and Ethiopian food, but I don’t expect that would be popular with all patrons.”