Understanding the OES Recycling Crisis: An Interview With Bon-Appetit’s General Manager Beth LaFond

Grant Button

In order to understand the challenges the pandemic has caused on serving meals, I spoke with Bon-Appetit’s General Manager, Beth LaFond, to try to understand the situation from her perspective. 

Recently in the OES community, it has come to the attention of many students and staff/faculty members that there has been an excessive amount of waste created by both the individually wrapped snacks, but most importantly, the utensils and plates used during lunch. Everyday as students and staff/faculty members finish their lunches, everything, including food, gets dumped into one of the many trash cans stationed nearby. This creates an enormous amount of overflowing trash every single day, despite OES faculty constantly emptying the trash. To better understand the challenges Bon-Appetit faces amid the pandemic and how we as students could help, I turned to Beth LaFond, the General Manager of Bon Appetit for OES, to learn a bit more about the challenges behind feeding a school community during a pandemic. As you can imagine, LaFond is busy—it took some time to connect. I was curious for her to give me a thumbnail sketch of a day-in-the-life in the dining hall right now. She explained that a typical day in the kitchen at OES begins at 5:30am. Dorm breakfast is served at 7:30, and lunch prep begins at 10:45—a tight turn around. At 11:45, the dining hall is cleared to prepare for the 6th Grade lunch—because they are unvaccinated, that transition is important to get right and be COVID-19-safe. 7th and 8th graders follow on the heels of the 6th Grade, and then there’s about a 10-minute turn around between Middle School and Upper School lunch. In that time, all of the tables and chairs are cleaned and sanitized, and the service lines are restocked. The Upper School students come through beginning at 12:45. At 1:30, the Bon Appetit crew finally has a chance to take their own break and eat lunch, and then they clean and sanitize again and prepare for Dorm dinner, which runs from 5:30-6:30. The night cook and dishwasher usually finish up around 8pm. It all starts again the next day. 

COVID-19 has complicated an already-complicated and tight dining schedule. The virus prompted new questions: How can the dining staff set up a safe practice? How can they best respond to the very strict guidelines they had for distributing meals? And don’t forget, there are also dietary restrictions, aversions, and allergies to clearly label and contend with. The dining staff has been responsive. They have learned to pivot and adapt at every turn. But guidelines are constantly changing, new data comes in, students complain, and food delivery trucks aren’t necessarily arriving with exactly what they ordered. Beth notes,  “What I have learned in the past 18 months is to get comfortable with change!”

Labor shortages and food supply chain issues are the main hurdle for all food service companies these days. LaFond explained, “We have had ads up for cooks, servers, and dishwashers since June and have yet to have an applicant. Deliveries are not very reliable from our vendors – many items have been left out of our order, but we don’t find out until the truck shows up (often late a day or more) and starts bringing in products!” COVID-19 has impacted more than just daily life at school. Manufacturing plants, a truck driver shortage, importing shortages, and more all impact Bon Appetit’s ability to set up for success each day. (For a summary of the supply chain challenges the United States is facing, Faculty Advisor to the Dig, Kara Tambellini, recommends listening to The Great Supply Chain Disruption on the Daily.) 

Students have expressed frustration at the amount of waste and single-use plastics used in dining service this year. I asked LaFond about this. She explained, “Food items that are not served or distributed by one person need to be individually wrapped for safety, which is a guideline originally developed when methods of COVID-19 transmission were unknown, and hasn’t been revised.” So if you were wondering why students can have a bowl of oranges available for snack, but apples have to be served, LaFond explained, “oranges and bananas have a “protective” peel when apples are exposed – anyone that has touched the apple could have germs/ bacteria on them can more easily spread to the person eating the apple.” That attention to detail has to be considered every day.

Food service or commercial kitchens also have health codes, and those have only increased since COVID-19 began. The staff has to assume that people are immunocompromised and take every precaution to protect their workers.

Regarding the use of disposable paper plates, utensils, and cups, Bon Appetit reports having to use those for a few reasons. The first is that students and employees are scattered all over campus for their meals and it’s not realistic to be able to collect reusable dishes (here is an area for growth for all of us—how can we be a part of a better solution?). In addition, Bon Appetit is understaffed. LaFond expressed hope: “Once we can get more staff, especially a morning dishwasher, we can set up an outside bussing station for plates and utensils. This will take a lot of help from students and employees to make sure people return their plates and utensils to a bussing station.” When that time comes, students in the Upper School in particular can set a good example and pitch in to make the system work. In the meantime, here are some simple things students and employees should do to help reduce waste:

  • Bring your own water bottle to fill.
  • Bring a cloth napkin and camping silverware.
  • Consider taking only what you need, especially when using condiment packets and the like.
  • Be patient with us! Bon Appetit is doing their best under a stressful and ever changing COVID landscape. We, like you, want a return to normal.

Also, please support the OES environmental club in trying to solve these issues and more regarding OES’s waste and emissions.