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UW-L Dining Service’s Secret: EXPOSED

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UW Lax chapter.

A couple of days ago, while I was on my way to grab some glorious food from Whitney I ran into UW-L sophomore, Sam Douglass, who was trying to raise attention to the amount of food that gets wasted every single day at UW-L’s cafeteria. After talking to him for awhile, I was honestly suprised to find out more about the policy behind Chartwell’s and how much food goes to waste each day. It’s not just the food students are throwing away at the end of their meals, but the prepared food at the end of the night that doesn’t get eaten. I’ve had the opportunity to sit with Sam Douglass and ask him more questions on this issue and what we can do to help. Before I begin, I will give some background information.

UW-L’s food service is run by the company Chartwells. Chartwell’s is owned by the company Compass Group. This includes UW-L’s main dining cafeteria, Whitney and Chars, as well as all of the food at UW-L’s student union, called The U. Here’s Sam Douglass with more information! 

Sarah: Hi Sam! Why don’t you begin by telling me some more information about yourself. 

Sam: I’m a Sophomore transfer from UW-Whitewater.  Majoring in philosophy, might add some psychology in there. I might try out for the swim team next year.


Sarah: What is it that you were handing out in Whitney the other day?

Sam: I had a quick two question survey that I was giving students. The first question was if they want something done with the left over food at the end of the night. If they want it to be donated or thrown away. It was a yes or no question. The second one was how important is it to them that it’s donated rather than thrown away.


Sarah: What is your whole goal with doing this?

Sam: For them to start donating food at the end of the night or something else with it rather than throwing it away. It’s all the prepared food in the kitchen. It’s full trays of lasagna, full pizzas, full things of soup and they just throw it away because the students aren’t going to eat it that night and it can’t be reserved the next day. Salvation army serves meals at night. Hunger Task Force distribute it that night and they’ll call local churches that serve food, so there’s no reason why it can’t be donated. Even the stuff that can’t be donated, local farms would be happily accept all of it.


Sarah: What inspired you to do something about it?

Sam: I was working at Whitney. I’ve been a Chartwells employee since December-ish. I was the one throwing the food away at the end of the night. Everybody in their respective spots: Chars, Mondos, Whitney. You take all the left over food, you dump it into these buckets, and then you put it in a bag and put it in the dumpster. It was ridiculous for me to see how much food gets thrown away and it’s hard to see it happen, like even for one night. One night I was trying to take home a burger. I was just going home and one of the managers, Lori, came up and said “you can’t take that home. It’s our policy. Everything has to be thrown away.” I can’t even take home a burger, like I worked here for 4 hours. She said, “No it’s our policy. Everything has to be thrown away.” That’s when I kind of thought there’s a bigger issue going on here, more than I just can’t take home a burger.


Sarah: Why do you think it’s important that we do something about it?

Sam: We are one of the biggest food production places in La Crosse and another might be Festival Foods and they donate their food at the end of the night. We have an obligation to our community to give back. We are such a big campus and food production place. Whatever you are; If you’re a big business in your community, you have a slight obligation to give back. We are just ignoring that and everything is lined up. Everything is possible for us and we are just refusing to do it because of company policy. Some people see a company policy and they stop there. I see a company policy and I want to change it. There’s no reason it can’t be changed because it’s just logical.


Sarah: How much food do you think gets thrown out on the daily? Do you think that the food that does get thrown out could be donated?

Sam: The food, not the food students scoop of their plates, obviously, because that goes down the garbage disposable because it was already served. The food from the kitchen at the end of the night, the food they have already made, that can all be donated. I asked the kitchen to give me some numbers on how much they throw out and they wouldn’t let me see the book. Even though I was the one filling out the book for a certain amount of time, I wrote down quarts I would throw away in my little section and keep track of that so I asked to see the book, that I look at every other night, and they wouldn’t show me. They wouldn’t give me numbers and I have talked to the head chefs here at the U and at Whitney. I have their email addresses and they told me they would get back to me. I don’t know if they will.


Sarah: It sounds kind of fishy. They are definitely hiding something.

Sam: It is. They get paid for all of it too. That’s the issue thing is they get compensated by I believe, Compass Group, it might just be Chartwells. Compass Group owns Chartwells and so they count up all the food that they toss out at the end of the night and they get paid for all of that. It’s a money issue to them and that they make all their money back. They are not wasting any money, so it’s not a waste issue to them, because they are fully compensated.


Sarah: I know when I was talking to you the other day you said it might be kind of hard for them to change their policy because they are making money off of it so why would they want to change it?

Sam: I think they can still keep their compensation program in place, because it is important to them to produce more than enough so the students that pay for the meals should have plenty, but I think you can keep that in place but donate it. There’s no reason you can’t get compensated for your left overs and it be going somewhere. Compensate them a little bit more then.


Sarah: Why should students care about this?

Sam: It’s for the good of the community. It goes beyond yourself. It’s just thinking of other people really. I mean we know there are homeless people out there. We know that Hunger Task force serves hundreds of thousands of people a night. It’s up to us whether we want to care about it or just ignore it. If we have the opportunity to do something so little as saying yes, I agree that this shouldn’t happen then by all means. It’s something that students can get behind. Maybe when future students come to La Crosse it’s something we can use to help promote La Crosse. Like we donate the rest of our food and we give back to the community. If we give it to the local farms, that’s helping the community so much. The farms help everything for the community.


Sarah: How can other students get involved?

Sam: Get active with it. Join students for sustainability. Email Chartwells and get active about it. Start talking about it really. We need to force the students behind this because they are the ones paying for the meals and if they are the ones paying for the food then wouldn’t it be there food at the end of the night to decide where it goes? I mean I get it’s not their decision because Chartwells runs it. If the students stand up and say hey we are the ones paying for this food and I don’t want, you throwing it away. That’s noise. Whether they are going to agree to it or not. It’s something to listen to. I think that’s really important.


Sarah: Are you going to have any other tables set up? What is your next step on the issue?

Martin Luther King often spoke of bringing tension to the surface to promote change rather than ignoring it. 

“…I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” …there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths.”

Tension is often times avoided, when really tension is not the end goal, progress is, and tension is necessary to get there. It’s such a great thing to have you on my side because media attention is tension for them. They don’t want this going public because it is a bad look, if it does go public we are much more likely to achieve our goal.

So Students! Talk to the managers about this (they wear blue shirts at the dining centers), send emails to Chartwell’s and the Lacrosse food managers, tell your friends, offer volunteer time, and create some tension for them to listen to!

This morning I talked to festival foods and I talked to them about how they donate their food and what processes they go through and what can be donated and what can’t. At the end of all that, they directed me to Hunger Task Force so I’m going to call Hunger Task Force and ask them what laws there are about donating and transporting. The whole nine yards. So that I can gather all my information and then along with the survey I took, 671 students signed slips and that was in 4 hours. That’s more than I could possibly thought.


Sarah: What were the responses like?

Sam: All of them were “yes”. I didn’t get any “no’s” as far as do you want it donated. I’m currently in the process of averaging out the scale of 1 to 10 and that’s just going to take a while for me to do but it will be somewhere between 9 and 10. I’m going to take all the information from what the students voted on and what Festival Foods does. I’m going to get their process and what Hunger task force would be happy to help with. The volunteers I could get with from Students for Sustainability and once I have all of that together I will present it to Chartwells. I’m in contact with Christy, one of the heads of marketing for Chartwells. She actually runs students for sustainability. She’s happy to help out. I work for them so I know all the bosses and I’m on good terms with them.


Sarah: What is students for sustainability?

Sam: It’s a club here on campus. Anybody can join it. I didn’t know about it until I went to Christy getting permission to have the table and she said it’s funny you should ask me about this, go to students for sustainability.


Sarah: Did they care you were putting out that table?

Sam: To have that table I needed a manger to sign to have it because they won’t just let some Joe schmuck have a table.  They needed proof that I was part of a group or something. I thought oh sure, I’m part of Chartwells. I asked all my managers if I could do that and every single one of them said “no.” The head chef downstairs said no. That’s when I went to the offices and met Kristy and she said, “yeah you can that, I want you to.”


Sarah: Do you think you’ll keep working there?

Sam: I’m not sure. I have a meeting with my boss, Patty soon.


Sarah: What do you think will happen at the meeting?

Sam: I don’t know. I’m staying optimistic. Patty likes me. Patty’s a saint–she’s a great woman. We talked about me working at The U. Different set of managers. A fresh slate.


Sarah: Do you think all of the food in The U gets thrown away too?

Sam: It does. They have a kitchen here down in the basement. It’s the same type of kitchen over at Whitney. They make all the food to help all the food places in here, everything. They count it up at the end of the night and they throw it away.


Sarah: Are all the food services at UW-L run by Chartwells?

Sam: Yes. I don’t think Einstein’s is but everything else is run by Chartwells, which is run by Compass Group.


Sarah: Do you have any additional comments?

It’s really exciting. I think this is definitely going somewhere and the cool thing about it is Chartwells serves a lot colleges.  I know for a fact they serve white water, because I worked there. I heard they serve Platteville and if it’s those three around here, I’m sure they serve elsewhere. But Chartwells is a big food service. If they catch wind that, hey you know what? We are not throwing away; we can donate stuff. Let’s get Chartwells in contact with Hunger Task Force instead of just the La Crosse section of Chartwells in contact with the La Crosse section of hunger task force. What if the two made an agreement. That could be huge in a lot of communities.


Sarah: Like if all the school’s run my Chartwells starting talk about this, that would be awesome.

Sam: Yeah, there’s a lot of potential here and its common sense. That’s why I think it’s going to go somewhere.


Sarah: Do you think that they will get rid of Chartwells or do you just want them to change their policy?

Sam: I don’t think they will get a new food service. I mean, Chartwells does a phenomenal job. I did email Joe Gow about it and just let him know what I was doing.


Sarah: Did he reply?

Sam: Yes, he did. He kind of covered it a little bit, because Chartwells is his investment. He said make sure you run everything through your managers, but good luck.

I’m super excited. This is definitely going somewhere. My goal is to do something every single day to work towards it, because it’s a very big goal and if I keep a day by day goal and do something every single day. It can be more than just a something but I think that’s a Bruce Lee quote. He said like, “do something intentional to move toward your goal.” I’m a big Bruce Lee fan.


Sarah: Are you looking for anymore help or anything?

I mean all the help I can get. When the time come down to it, I will need volunteers to help packaged up the food at the end of the night. If Chartwells is unwilling to have its employees package it up but that’s something we can cross the bridge on when it gets here. Even employees would be happy to spend 10 minutes at the end of the night packaging things up. Students for sustainability, they meet Tuesday nights. I’m just going to keep bringing it up. That’s the platform, group stage, that I will move forward with.


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Sarah Mueller is a senior majoring in Organizational and Professional Communication and minoring in Professional Writing. She loves to write, run, and do yoga in her free time. Follow her on instagram: sarah_muelller