British Columbia

Vulture Culture: These students dine on leftovers from cafeteria trays

A group of students at the University of Victoria has created a club that dines on leftover food in the cafeteria. Vulture Culture members say french fries are the gateway food to 'tray-raiding.'

'It is still perfectly edible food; just someone couldn't fit it in their tummy'

Vulture Culture members say french fries are the gateway food to tray-raiding. (Nicole Crescenzi/CBC)

A group of students at the University of Victoria has found a different way of eating on a student budget — but it's perhaps not for the faint of heart.

Members of the group "Vulture Culture" harvest leftover food from cafeteria trays in order to eat for free.

The group holds regular meetings at the university's Mystic Market, an on-campus cafeteria, where they collect food and discuss food waste.

"We are promoting food-sharing and food recovery through an inclusive environment," said group member Megan Dewar.

"It takes people some time. But we find once people sit down and have their first satisfying meal that was free and delicious and we saved food from the waste stream, they get over it pretty quick."

Vulture Culture has started a petition for a permanent food-sharing table at the University of Victoria. (Vulture Culture/Facebook)

Fellow group member Nicole Cymerys says there is a specific technique to gathering the food.

"We call it tray-raiding. So it's the process of going through the trays where people have put their leftover food … Then we find what is still available to be eaten," she said.

"We look for things that aren't wet and haven't been visibly eaten. So fries are always our gateway to tray-raiding food, because they are very easy to snack on and grab. Pastas are another easy one. And salads. We usually avoid things such as soup."

Risks not that high, group says

In response to concerns about germ exposure, Cymers says she has never become ill after tray-raiding.

"We like to trust people," Cymers said. "So we believe the risks aren't as high as people think.

"Everyone is just conditioned, through growing up, only take the food you have touched," she added. "It is still perfectly edible food; just someone couldn't fit it in their tummy."

But tray-raiding does raise concerns for at least one food safety expert.

"Anytime you are dealing with food waste, we don't know if the food has come in contact with someone's mouth," said Massimo Marcone, a professor in the department of food science at the University of Guelph. 

"There are communicable diseases that can be spread through food, so one needs to be careful that these foods may be contaminated." 

Vulture Culture was founded earlier this year and recently started a petition for a permanent food-sharing table at the Mystic Market.

As part of Vulture Culture, Nicole Cymerys and Megan Dewar encourage discussions about food waste. (Nicole Crescenzi/CBC)

With files from Nicole Crescenzi

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