On the ground: In JE, a day without trays

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Confusion, but not chaos, filled the Jonathan Edwards College dining hall on Wednesday, as students attempted to balance plates, knives, forks and cups during an experimental trayless lunch.During the pilot trayless meal, organized as a way to encourage sustainable dining, JE students responded to the absence of trays with a range of emotions — from complacence to outright indignation. But for most of the 17 students interviewed during lunch Wednesday, the environmental aims of the experiment were lost amid the visceral sense of deprivation as they walked past the alcove usually occupied by stacks of plastic trays.

Jamie Biondi ’12 said he was most concerned about the abnormal mixing of different food types on his plate.

“I had cookies on my baked potato,” he said, gesturing to his plate, from which the offending cookies had been removed and placed on separate napkins. “It was a mess.”

But for some diners, going trayless was nothing new.

JE Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership coordinator Chris Termyn ’10, who said he has avoided using trays for a year, has become a pro at balancing multiple plates stacked along his arms. Termyn’s signature trayless dining practice: silverware in his back pocket.

“If people took the time to understand the issues, which might mean forcing them to not use a tray, then they’ll begin to make the right choice,” Termyn said.

Behind him, one student dropped his silverware on the floor as he tried to return his dirty dishes to the dishwashing station.

The dining hall remained mostly spill-free throughout lunch, perhaps in part because of a general reluctance to venture near the soup. All except one of the 17 students interviewed said they would think twice before choosing liquid-based meals if they had to carry the bowl by hand.

For most diners, the absence of trays necessitated more visits to the serving area than usual.

JE student David Lee ’10 estimated that trayless dining would increase the number of his servery trips to an average of two and a half times per meal. Other students said the additional trips would disrupt meals with friends as students returned to the kitchen for more food mid-conversation.

But four of the students interviewed remained adamant that the environment gains of going trayless far outweighed the minor inconvenience of not having trays.

“I was frustrated that I had to go back for my second glass of water,” Genna Purcell ’10 said. “But I think overall I would take these kinds of uncomfortable things in favor of sustainability.”

Others expressed a much higher level of attachment to their plastic trays.

One group of JE seniors who wished to remain anonymous was particularly impassioned, saying the new initiative would cause “unhealthy dining” in which students would not make the extra trip or two into the kitchen to ensure they had a balanced meal.

They also speculated about how far STEP might go in the group’s quest for sustainable dining.

“Next year we’ll be eating in the serving area!” one exclaimed, before the conversation turned to suggestions that using chopsticks could cut down on food consumption by 10 percent.

Office of Sustainability Assistant Director Melissa Goodall said the office is trying to gauge reactions from students and dining hall staff members to going trayless, along with ways the initiative might be refined for future implementation.

But in JE on Wednesday, the initial response of some students was decidedly unenthusiastic.

One student who was asked about his dining experience said, with a raised voice, “It was very inconvenient.”

Wednesday afternoon, acting JE Master Penelope Laurans described the trayless initiative as a trial that is still being refined.

“I’m not saying that we have all the answers and that we’ve solved everything,” Laurans said. “I’m saying, ‘It’s an experiment.’ ”


  • whocares

    Leave me alone. I want my tray. If you don't want one, fine, but don't push your choices on me.

  • godcountryandyale

    “If people took the time to understand the issues, which might mean forcing them to not use a tray, then they’ll begin to make the right choice,” Termyn said

    i'm an adult--i can make my own choices. whether it's trays in the dining hall, recycling, or being nagged about unplugging my fridge over winter break, the problem with the environmentalist movement is that it's a bunch of affluent white liberals telling me how I should live my life. if you want me to do something, explain to me how it's in my rational self-interest. don't coerce or nag me.

  • guy

    Maybe a better solution would be only to use trays, and no plates. The trays are washed anyway. I know it appears uncivilized to eat directly off the tray, but I can't think of any reason why it would be bad. I mean, I wouldn't do it for pasta, but why not for burgers? Then there would be plenty of room for bowls and cups.

    Also, I've never got why people think they need to fill multiple cups anyway. That's what always strikes me as a huge waste, and it's really very simple to go refill a cup.

  • Anonymous

    Besides….Commons seems to never have clean plates for breakfast. I think I saw chinese food rice on my plate this morning….

  • Michael

    Interesting to note the challenges. I'm at James Madison University and dining services here has 2 of their main dining halls not providing trays. Students griped and complained at first, but they adapted and are a bit more used to it. Some would still like the trays back. Dining services speaks strongly about the amount of water saved, the amount of dish detergent not used, and the positive impact it has on the campus sustainability initiatives.

  • life skills.

    i think it is worthwhile to learn to carry a bowl of soup 20 feet without spilling it. seriously, it's not rocket science. most of us are attempting to prepare for a life without household servants, so i say it's probably a worthwhile investment in the future.