Food is sustainable, funding might not be

Finally, all Yale undergraduates are getting a taste of Berkeley college. Beginning this year, organic meals are making their way past the confines of Berkeley’s walls and into the dining halls of all the residential colleges. Four days a week, the 10 other open residential college dining halls will add one organic dish added to their menus.

The expansion of the organic food program stands to benefit everyone, from students, who can now all share in the new menu options, to local farmers, who stand to win important contracts with Yale Dining Services. But if Yale wants to prove it’s serious about the popular and expensive new program, it must get serious about securing the funding necessary to support it.

Students have already praised the expanded program, which was rolled out when dining halls opened last week, and more changes are on the horizon. The University will add two organic desserts per week — including brownies and chocolate chip cookies, which are scheduled to make their debut this week — and other items, like organic milk and bananas, are being offered in addition to the new dishes. But the organic food is not simply taking the place of the nonorganic ingredients in old dining hall standbys — you won’t be seeing any free-range chicken tempura anytime soon. Instead, Dining Services is repeating its work in Berkeley, where it created entirely new dishes.

At its most basic level, the expansion of the program benefits the campus dynamic. No longer do Berkeleyites seem like the chosen people — only, perhaps, the slightly favored people. And maybe satiating the entire student body’s organic appetite will make meals in Berkeley a little less chaotic, possibly paving the way for a less restrictive transfer policy.

But the program can do much more than equalize dining options; the expansion has the potential to get all students thinking about their food, rather than simply complaining about it. Organic food is better for those who consume it, better for the environment, and better for the community whose resources go into producing it. A contract from Yale Dining Services, for example, has the potential to turn a local business around, and the University’s increasing use of organic, locally-grown food will strengthen its ties to the community.

And then, of course, there’s taste. These new organic dishes are a noticeable improvement upon the old. Indeed, one of the best aspects of the program is simply that the organic options are more innovative and better prepared than the non-organic ones. Often we can’t tell a difference in taste between organic produce and non-organic produce, but we can tell a difference between the way the dining hall is preparing them. When the ingredients cost more, greater care goes into preparing them.

Cost, however, is a significant problem. The new program comes with a $700,000 to $800,000 price tag, which is being footed by the Development Office. That office cannot continue to support the organic food program, and the University should be searching actively for another source of funding. Students and their families cannot easily absorb a substantial increase in the cost of the meal plan, and it would be a shame for organic food to disappear from the dining halls because the program is cost-prohibitive. At this point, we’ve all become way too addicted to the organic granola to give it up.

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