Every once in a while, I make it over to the student union for lunch. A certain café there offers a nice lunch deal: pasta, salad, and breadstick, $6.50. The pasta (baked ziti; ravioli; and macaroni and cheese) isn’t something you’d write to your Italian grandmother about, but it’s served in heaping portions topped with tolerable sauces, and the breadstick is a cheesestick made from decent pizza dough. The salad, on the other hand, is an off-hand collection of not-quite wilted lettuce, a few sliced raw red onions, a black olive, and on a good day, maybe a cherry tomato, topped with one of three mayonnaise-flavored dressings.
Most days, when I go through the line, I ask for pasta with no salad. Depending on the person who serves me, I’m either then offered a free soda in its place, or just a bewildered shake of the head. A few times, the salad has shown up on my tray anyway. Today was free soda day. Hoo-rah!
But here’s my point: Food waste is one of the biggest problems in U.S. consumption today, with some reports saying up to 50 percent of the food produced to be eaten never gets, well, eaten.
I think the Side Salad may be a big part of this problem. They’re pre-prepped at most restaurants and lettuce doesn’t keep well (particularly when paired with onion). At the end of the day, I bet the little café at the Union throws at least a tray of those little paper-basket salads away; I bet consumers who just wanted the macaroni throw away at least another tray’s worth. Yet lettuce and canned olives, and red onions are so inexpensive it probably makes more sense, business-wise, to spend forty-five minutes prepping those little guys than to make customers each wait thirty seconds to throw one together as needed.
I’d like to say I’m going on a principled side salad strike, but… I don’t think it would help. (Also, what would I eat next time I visit Kansas?)