Residential dining goes organic

Organic food lovers no longer have to bluff their way into Berkeley College to satisfy their taste buds.

Thirty of the most popular items from Berkeley’s menu are now part of the regular rotation of options in the other 10 open residential college dining halls this fall, Yale Associate Vice President for Student Financial and Administrative Services Ernst Huff said. The organic entrees, one of which will appear every day, Monday to Thursday, at lunch or dinner, are part of a larger overhaul of the menu offered by Yale University Dining Services.

“From the very beginning, we recognized that this was not a program that could be limited to one residential college,” Huff said.

Berkeley’s sustainable menu, featuring organic food that is locally grown, was launched last term. Demand for its offerings grew to such an extent that the college was forced to severely restrict access at mealtime, allowing only Berkeley students and their guests to enter.

The offering is “more limited” than the one in Berkeley, Huff said, but YUDS selected the most popular items served there, including grass-fed beef burgers and handmade pizza. He said the University also changed dining hall menus in other ways, including removing many casseroles and rearranging the pairing of items so they were more compatible.

“Last spring the menu for this current academic year had been completed toward the end,” Huff said. “Basically what we said was that we were going to scrap that menu entirely … and rebuild it based upon certain things, some of which had to deal with the food program and others just had to deal with taste and acceptability.”

A committee of cooks will evaluate the new menu on a weekly basis, Yale University Dining Services Executive Director Don McQuarrie said.

Like the Berkeley program last year, the new offerings are not cheap, costing $700,000 to $800,000 more this year, according to Huff. As in Berkeley’s case, dining services will be asking the development office to subsidize the program, but he said they recognize this is not a long-term funding solution.

Yale is also introducing organic milk, bananas and other products, Yale Sustainable Food Project Assistant Director Melina Shannon-DiPietro said. She said the University is also finalizing recipes for organic brownies and chocolate chip cookies, which will be introduced next week. Two organic desserts will be offered each week, Huff said.

Using more sustainable food benefits the local community, Shannon-DiPietro said, by employing people and maintaining farmlands. She cited the example of New Haven-based Palmieri Food Products, which received the contract to provide organic tomato sauce to Yale’s kitchens.

“A year ago, [the company] was laying off people,” Shannon-DiPietro said. “This means [it] won’t be doing that this year.”

The food also tastes much better, Shannon-DiPietro said, because it is produced locally and can be grown for taste rather than transport. Workers also have higher morale, she said, since they are cooking with better ingredients.

Commons Dining Hall will not be offering the organic items, Huff said, but some improvements have been implemented there as well. As part of a two-phase renovation plan, changes have been made to improve the flow and bring like items together, McQuarrie said, and there is a bigger salad bar and improved deli station. In the spring, workers may place an oven on the serving floor to cook pizza and hot sandwiches, and Commons will feature more “display cooking,” McQuarrie said.

Students asked about the changes were generally positive, saying they appreciated the more diverse meat offerings and the safety of the organic food. While even Berkeley “has its off days,” Mayanka Mudgal ’07 said, she said she hoped organic options would continue to expand.

After the success of Berkeley’s sustainable food menu, all residential college dining halls will now feature some organic entrees.
Timothy Polmateer
After the success of Berkeley’s sustainable food menu, all residential college dining halls will now feature some organic entrees.

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