Yale seeks increase in organic food

After a month-long trial of unrestricted dining hall access, officials said, students who flocked to Berkeley’s dining hall have issued their verdict: they like its all-organic menu and they want more.

Directors of the Yale Sustainable Food Project said they have redoubled their efforts to expand the range of organic options to Yale’s other dining halls in light of data showing that transfers to Berkeley during the trial nearly doubled from about 1,600 meals per week to 3,000, Dining Services Executive Director Don McQuarrie said. There are no plans yet to remodel a second dining hall to support an all-organic menu, but YSFP leaders said they expect to offer more items from Berkeley’s menu in other campus dining halls.

McQuarrie said that while no one dining hall was sapped considerably more than others by transfers to Berkeley, the numbers unquestionably speak in favor of the organic program.

“We saw nothing comparable to that in the other colleges,” McQuarrie said. “Across the four weeks of the test, we served roughly the same number of meals each week during the test as we did before, but all the colleges gave up some meals to Berkeley.”

McQuarrie and YSFP Associate Director Josh Viertal both said they expect to offer more organic options across campus, in addition to the program piloted this year that includes organic pizzas and grass-fed burgers in other college dining halls.

“Like a lot of students, I would like to see the kind of food that’s in Berkeley in every college, but Berkeley is like the test kitchen, and there’s no concrete plans to make a second test kitchen,” Viertal said.

The potential expansion of the project is limited by labor costs and, in particular, supply requirements as much as or more than simple budget constraints, Viertal said. The introduction of new organic foods in any dining hall requires additional preparation training for the dining hall’s staff, and he said the relative dearth of mixed salad greens and other organic foods produced in Connecticut during the winter renders a consistent supply of such foods problematic.

Still, Viertal said local supply is gradually catching up to University demand, and he lauded the project’s benefits to the local farming community.

“We don’t want to expand 100 percent in one year, because we think that’ll lead to supply issues and staff issues, but farmers are actually increasing organic production because Yale is buying more of it,” he said. “Ecologically, it’s great for New England.”

Though the project is implicitly tied to the Berkeley dining hall, Viertal said YSFP has an academic mission that separates it from a dining services program. He cited a new college seminar he is co-teaching this semester, “The Practice of Farming Well,” as evidence of a “knowledge quotient” at the heart of the project. In addition, the student sustainability advocacy group, Food From the Earth, is planning an “open house” April 16 for representatives of other higher education institutions interested in developing their own sustainable foods projects, Food From the Earth student leader Chelsea Purvis ’06 said.

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