Reducing waste in the classroom

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Students in Chef Kristi Branstetter’s food preparation class get a taste of something other than just the food they prepare.

Branstetter, food lab instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, says sustainability is a critical part of food preparation and consumption. She aims to teach her students that what they put in their body has an impact on the earth.

“My class isn’t just about cooking and preparation. It’s also about the food’s impact on the world, and the world’s impact on food,” Branstetter said. “I [also] try to teach students the benefits of paying attention to seasonal fruits, vegetables, and fish,” she said.

Branstetter practices a variety of sustainability efforts in the classroom, including utilizing local farms and food.

Eggs often come to the classroom from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, she said.

“I teach my students to be mindful of local farmers,” she said. “I want students to open their eyes to what a huge part of the world food really is.”

Lab components for courses NUTR 119/120 also recycle ingredients left over from food preparation, including cooking oil. Anything that can be, is composted, Branstetter said.

Mary Dean Coleman-Kelly is the instructor for NUTR 120, and Denise Lawson is the instructor for NUTR 119. 

"Both of us teach the lecture portion of NUTR 119 and 120 and Branstetter's job is to oversee the lab component of both NUTR 120 and NUTR 119," Coleman-Kelly said. "Both Denise and I incorporate information about sustainability practices within the the lecture content. Branstetter has applied this information by having the students compost extra food and other items."

The Penn State Office of the Physical Plant Waste Management picks up the oil from Branstetter’s classroom and transports it to a dining commons dock, according to Nadine Davitt, supervisor of recycling and refuse at the Penn State Office of the Physical Plant.

From there, it is collected for recycling.

Penn State Housing, Food Services, and Residence Life (HFS), which manages residence halls, dining halls, and other food service venues on campus, also participate in oil recycling, said John Mondock, director of purchasing at HFS.

“We try to minimize waste as much as we can,” Mondock said. “We’re all Penn State. The more we do together, the better off we are.”

MOPAC, based out of Souderton, Pennsylvania, is the vendor HFS uses for cooking oil recycling. The company has a network of trucks to collect and recycle used cooking oils and grease. These fats, now no longer suitable for human consumption, are brought to the MOPAC facility where they are heated to separate any moisture and centrifuged to remove impurities.

The resulting yellow grease is tested for compliance with American Fats and Oils Association and Food and Drug Administration standards, as well as routine screening for specific contaminants to ensure a product that can be used in a variety of environmentally or “green” manners, according to a letter by John Keeley, trade manager.

“Not only is the oil reutilized, but this also generates income for our operations that is used to offset costs and help keep room and board rates low (at Penn State),” Mondock said. “This service is competitively bid annually to ensure we are generating maximum income for our facilities.”

Back in the classroom, Branstetter hopes to one day take her passion even further and create an experiential learning opportunity where students buy food from local organic farms and bring it back to the classroom for preparation.

“That way they could really see the process from start to finish,” she said.

Branstetter said college is a great time to teach sustainability skills because students are becoming more independent and following their own paths in life.

“I think it’s important to show students how to be proactive about these things,” Branstetter said. “We’re reaching these students at a really important time in their lives to teach them about the footprint they leave.”

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Last Updated October 12, 2015