Commons tour goes behind the scenes

Students who toured Yale dining halls as part of Food Week saw a world they never knew existed, where soda pumps and mixing whisks are larger than human beings.

The Yale College Council hosted the tours, called “Yale Dining Inside Out,” on Monday. Students could sign up for a tour of their residential college dining hall, or Commons for students in Ezra Stiles, to learn about the processes behind feeding over 400 people every day. In Commons, students saw the equipment necessary to make 1000 to 1200 sandwiches in a day and $3 millionworth of food in a year.

“This is where all the magic happens,”Maureen O’Donnell, general manager for Commons, said while standing in the dining hall’s basement complex.

O’Donnell took the students on tour through the servery and down into the basement — uncharted territory for most Yaliesand home tomost of the cooking equipment and the workers’ locker rooms.In one of the rooms, a soda pump about six feet tall feeds into the soda machines in the dining room above,mixing the powdered soda with water and adding carbonation. O’Donnell said that when students hear the machines make a clicking noise, it means the box feeding it below needs to be changed.

The space of the room behindthe machines, she said, is used for storing tubs of condensed milk and peanut butter.

The bakery in the basement of Commons bakes multiple varieties offresh bread for all of the residential college dining hallsevery day, O’Donnell said.

The Commons basement complex also holdsseveral walk-in freezers, where shipments of meat are keptfrozenuntil they are needed. Before meat is cooked, workers put it ingigantic “thaw boxes,” nearly eight feet high and also housed in the basement, to soften it up.

Another room contains six-foot tall mixers, which are used with bowls the size of armchairs.

There’s a reason everything in Commons is so big.

“When you all have your midterms, it’s nothing personal, but a lot of food is eaten,” O’Donnell said.

Even though Yale dining halls operate on a huge scale, O’Donnell said they try to reduce waste however possible.

O’Donnell said the dining halls throw away uneaten food instead of donating it because health code regulations prohibit them from giving away food that has been brought out of the kitchen. But she said the dining halls try to bring food from the kitchen in small portions so they can donate leftovers to New Haven soup kitchens and churches, which pick up food from Yale every Thursday or Friday.

“New Haven needs it,” O’Donnell said.

Waste is reduced from 20 pounds to 10 per meal when students go trayless, she said. Butfood waste this year has been worse than in the past three.

“I’m really interested in food and agriculture and I want to know how Yale Dining is doing on the sustainability side of things,” Wanwan Lu ’12, who went on the tour, said.

But Lu added that she thinks the dining hall is doing a good job of bringing in local produce and educating students about sustainability through farming days and Food Week.

She added that food consumption is higher during the first five weeks of the fall term than during the rest of the year.

In the china room, dedicated to storing all the extra china from all of Yale’s dining halls, O’Donnell told students that Yale orders so many plates with college crests that the manufacturer responsible for making themhas been having trouble turning out the number the University requires.

Each tour took up to 15 students and ran for an hour.

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