Dining Hall Dilemma

Dining Hall Dilemma

Changing the way campuses think about food
Every year, the sustainability staff at UC Davis hosts a celebration to sum up its Meatless Monday campaign. Students learn about their impact, and, best of all, get to indulge in some free vegan ice cream.

Making dietary changes isn’t just a good idea for staying healthy—it’s a way of going green, too. Colleges and universities are quickly taking notice. By buying local and promoting eating less meat, they’re helping students change the way they think about food in their dining halls and across campus, for the health of not only the campus community, but the planet.

Promoting Meatless Monday, a campaign initiated by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Md.), is one way colleges and universities are greening dining halls. While the campaign was designed to promote the health benefits of cutting back on meat in 2003, it has evolved to include the environmental benefits, like a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel energy use, and water used for producing meat.

Numerous schools have begun promoting meatless options one day a week since the program started. The University of California, Davis, for example, had 625 students pledge to go meatless once a week this year.

Sarah Kosoff, UC Davis dining service’s sustainability and education coordinator, says the goal is to have 1,000 students pledge.

“It’s a very contentious issue, meat consumption, and it’s very personal for people,” she says. “We reassure people that we’re not taking meat off the menu next week. We’re coming at this campaign from an educational standpoint, by letting people know it’s totally fine to consume meat, but asking them to think about their responsibility and how their food impacts themselves and their environment, and to educate them on the industrial meat system that we have in this country.”

Last year, 580 students pledged to go meatless once a week, saving 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 26.8 million gallons of water, and 23,000 gallons of fossil fuel.

Buying local is another way to reduce a dining hall’s environmental impact, with the added benefit of supporting the local economy. At Marlboro College (Vt.), all the produce served in the dining hall is purchased from farms within a 40-mile radius. In chilly Vermont, this means it’s hard to get certain types of fruits and vegetables year-round.

“Basically what’s available dictates what our menu is going to be for the week,” says Richie Brown, head of food services.

But students don’t seem to mind. Marlboro has a large vegan and vegetarian population, so buying the freshest produce available is key to providing the students with food they’ll enjoy. “Any time I put on my menus that the food is local and organic, people seem to say it tastes so much better,” says Brown.

On many campuses, students are taking local into their own hands. Slow Food on Campus, an offshoot of Slow Food USA, allows students to join together to promote a good, clean, and fair food system in their communities. So far, there are 47 institutions with student-led Slow Food on Campus chapters.