Advancing medical research with a side of lettuce

A program of the Morrison Café and the College’s Center for Comparative Medicine is supporting Baylor’s biomedical research efforts while helping to reduce leftover food at the main campus cafeteria.

The new food donation program was borne out of the goal by Garrett Lucas, director of dining services at the Morrison Café, to reduce food waste.

‘Like all of my team members, I’m continually searching for ways to stop food waste, which includes salvaging excess food and a variety of fruit and vegetable scraps,” Lucas said. “For example, what do you do with a core of lettuce? Fortunately, we’ve come up with a solution – donating food that helps fuel one of the nation’s leading institutions in biomedical research.”

Lucas and his team reached out to Cindy Buckmaster, director of Baylor’s Center for Comparative Medicine, which provides animal care and supports the College’s research mission.

“We met with the facility’s administrators and veterinarians and found that our scraps were a match for the animals’ diets. After only two months, the program has met our goals and exceeded those of our client. We’ve reduced our food waste by a whopping 350 pounds each month while improving the animals’ diets and saving money for the College,” Lucas said.

There is virtually no vegetable or fruit that isn’t a part of the donation program. The scraps range from onion peels, the tops of carrots and the cores of lettuce, kale, endive and apples. Morrison Café also provides bananas that are spotted or have broken cores; orange and pineapple peels; damaged berries and cucumbers, as well as the ends of squash and zucchinis. The foods are prepped, separated and bagged, then picked up twice weekly by staff from the Center for Comparative Medicine.

In addition to these foods, the café supplies the facility with large aluminum cans that are used to create molds for frozen fruits and juices that keep the animals engaged with healthy, sweet goodness for hours. The cans are recycled after use.

While the program meets the food service team’s food waste goals, it also contributes to the Center for Comparative Medicine’s environmental enrichment program, Buckmaster said, which includes ensuring that animals receives a variety of foods. The program also has resulted in a cost savings for the Center, which previously ordered from a vendor, and the donated food offers greater nutritional value.

“Our animals love having a rotating variety of produce, and we love it because it’s better quality and less expensive,” Buckmaster said.

Lucas said the donation program has helped fulfill the initial goal of reducing food waste but he’s most proud of strengthening Morrison’s relationship with Baylor.

“Baylor is a valued partner that is working hard to advance human and animal health, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” he said. “It really gives our team a sense of purpose.”

This story originally appeared on the Morrison Healthcare blog.