Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sustainable Food: What DePaul Should Do

College students often eat two or more meals a day on campus. Over the course of a year this is a lot of food that DePaul purchases and sells to students. DePaul has an opportunity to offer students locally bought food from farms around Illinois and help create a sustainable food service system.

While DePaul University does have some food and recycling sustainability practices, I feel that this is an area that they could improve in and not only impact and sustain the local community but the health of the DePaul students. DePaul currently has no formal policies on purchasing local food, but does have initiatives to encourage units to buy locally grown produce when available. DePaul buys from 17 local farms and spends $68,046 of their $3 million budget on locally raised food. While this may seem impressive, when compared to a school like Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio who spends $1,260,00 out of their $3 million budget on locally raised food, there is a lot of room for improvement.

DePaul does have an area on their dining services website that people can view their sustainability practices and what foods they use that are locally grown and bought. While these practices are having an impact there is more that can be done and Oberlin College, while not as large as DePaul, sets a great example through their sustainability practices.

Oberlin College has formal policies around the purchase of sustainable and organic food. They state that their principle is to “purchase, prepare and dispose all food and products in the most sustainable, socially and fiscally responsible manner possible.” I think this is a great first step when moving towards a more sustainable food service system and DePaul would benefit greatly when setting up something like this. By taking the initiative to purchase local and sustainable food, DePaul is encouraging students to do this in their personal lives and pass this on to their family and friends, not to mention the benefits of supporting the local economy and farmers. This can create a ripple effect throughout communities of people.

Oberlin College received an A- grade from the College Sustainability Report Card 2010. Oberlin College purchases from 9 local farmers or growers directly and 16 through a distributor which they call the Farm to Fork Program. They purchase things such as honey, maple syrup, grass-fed beer, and naturally raised turkey, dairy among other things. Oberlin also runs their own school farm to provide food to students and also give them an opportunity to work in the farm and learn more about the choices we make in regard to food sustainability. While this may be hard for DePaul due to the urban area that surrounds it, there might be a possibility to buy a plot of land in a nearby suburb or a plot of unused land near the school. Oberlin’s dining services employees, all 71 of them, have adopted the core values of sustainability and encourage others to do so as well. As they say “practice what you preach.”

Not only does Oberlin College have a food service sustainability program they also have a responsible disposables and composting program. The responsible disposable program encourages the use of china and silverware in the cafes. When it isn’t possible to use china or silverware they use products from renewable sources like corn, sugarcane and potato starch. To reduce the impact on the environment, they compost any biodegradable disposables and collect kitchen waste and customers food to be used as compost in George Jones Memorial Farm. Composting is something that can be done for free and in your own backyard. By encouraging students to compost in college it will encourage them to bring these practices with them in the future.

The University of Minnesota also set a great example with their food service program. They have received an A- from the College Green Report Card 2010. They use concepts similar to Oberlin college but on a larger scale. They support over 12 local farms and encourage everyone working for their dining service to promote the local food initiative.

Oberlin College and The University of Minnesota set an exemplary example when it comes to sustainability throughout their colleges and especially in their food service department. What I have highlighted above is only a few of the initiatives that they have put in place. DePaul can look to this model as they try to create a more sustainable university that supports the local community and the health of the students they educate. The food service sustainability program can be taken into the classroom and taught in classes involving food policy, development, economics and agriculture. As mentioned in the paper International Implementation Scheme “education is held to be central to sustainability.”
Posted by Julia Jolliff
Photo credit Energy Bulletin 

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