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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.’ ”