There once was a time when ill-mannered students weren’t the only pigs who dined a la Commons Dining Hall.
While students complained about day-old moldy bread, an overabundance of tofu and the occasional rotten cabbage, Yale Dining Services said it was listening, but students continued to squeal.
The age-old dispute was in its heyday. And Connecticut’s finest swine were eating it up. Literally.
For a blissful period of many years, Commons sent its pre-prepared food wastes to a local piggery, where sows were fattened for the killing off the same food served to students with 1,500 board scores.
Several times a week, a lucky Connecticut pig farmer would arrive at Commons with his truck, load it with 55-gallon drums of pig slurry and make the ride back home to his farm, where he would heat and stew the scraps until they were ready for serving.
But because of a dispute between the farmer and Dining Services workers, Commons no longer sends scraps to the piggery, and C.J. May, who coordinates Yale’s recycling program, is looking for another outlet for the University’s food waste.
While a recent Chronicle of Higher Education writer criticized Yale as “by no means an environmental leader,” May and the University are doing what they can to reduce the campus food waste, which May estimates at 200 tons per year.
May said the University is looking for another piggery, but because of increasing suburban development, Connecticut’s family-run pig farmers are growing fewer and fewer.
Other colleges across the Northeast, including Brown University and Connecticut College, send their food scraps to piggeries, but are only able to do so because they are located so close to the farms, May said.
Rutgers University sends its food waste to a cattle farm.
Pigs can only eat pre-prepared food wastes — things like expired daily products, extra loaves of bread and old fruit — because post-consumer wastes may go bad or be contaminated.
So student leftovers — the food left on tray after tray as the conveyor runs into the dishroom — are post-consumer wastes and cannot just be served directly to the pigs.
“They’d need to be cooked before you could serve them to pigs,” May said.
Because Commons has two “chillers” for food storage, the dining hall was able to use one for unprepared foods and the other for piggery-bound waste scraps.
Storing the scraps in a chiller prevented them from going rancid, which would have generated foul odors and attracted vermin.
Many of Yale’s other dining halls also had two chillers, but as students demanded more food variety, most were replaced in favor of other uses of space, May said.
“Many decades ago, most had two chillers — one for incoming produce, one for outgoing slop,” May said. “But as time has gone on, students have requested more and more different kinds of food. Commons is the only dining hall left with slop chiller now, so it’s the only one that you could use to send scraps to a piggery.”
If piggeries are not an option, May said he is looking into entering a food waste disposal cooperative.
Several Boston-area colleges, including Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern, have pooled their resources to make organic disposal of food wastes an economic reality, said Rob Gogan, who coordinates Harvard’s recycling program.
But because there are so few large food waste-generating institutions in New Haven, such a plan may be difficult here, May said.
While the University is looking at alternative means of food waste disposal, May said students can do one simple thing in the interim: take less food.
“Just take less on your plate,” May said.