As it turned out, chips made all the difference in Hunt Dining Hall during Sustainable Meal Week at Mary Baldwin University in April. Not the crunchy, salty kind of chips, but color-coded poker chips that helped diners take a few more minutes to decide what to eat before digging in. The result was a 60 percent reduction in wasted food — a figure that has been topping out at about $50,000 in recent years — and many positive comments about the gentle reminder to eat more consciously.

main servery line at Hunt

A quick recap: Instead of the traditional all-you-care-to-eat format in the dining hall, patrons at lunch and dinner April 11–15 were each given a pink chip when they entered the dining hall. That chip allowed a person to select one entrée and to sample unlimited food from dessert and stations along the perimeter of the lunchroom. If she wanted another entrée, the diner asked for a blue chip to deposit after making another selection.

Approximately 2,800 meals were served during the 10 sessions, and 151 blue chips were used, according to Mary VanNortwick, director of dining services. Using measurements of waste before and during Sustainable Meal Week, Tracy Hiner, assistant director of dining services and executive chef, estimated a nine-cent savings per person per meal during the week. While that doesn’t sound like much, it adds up quickly over thousands of meals during the course of the year.

The pilot week in April was intended to test the system and garner feedback in preparation for more permanent changes to dining at Mary Baldwin in fall 2011. VanNortwick is looking for students, faculty, and staff to participate in focus groups May 11 and 12 that will explore the results and plans in more detail. Email her or call 887-7167 if you would like to be involved.