Though the Berkeley College dining hall will remain the only Yale eatery to serve entirely organic food this year, a roughly 50 percent increase in total expenses for the Yale Sustainable Foods Project will help bring organic items to all residential college dining halls six days per week.
Last year, students were introduced to organic pizzas, grass-fed burgers and 31 other YSFP products sprinkled throughout college dining halls, but this year the project offers a total of 89 menu items. In addition to new funding explicitly for the project, Yale Dining Services received approximately $1 million to account for the added costs of food, training and staff needed to accommodate the increase in organic servings.
All Yale dining halls besides Berkeley offered organic foods between two and four times a week last year, but these foods were often side dishes, desserts or coffee instead of complete entrees. This year, non-Berkeley dining halls will have six days of organic service a week, plus an increase in entrees.
Dining officials said the project’s expansion is due to overwhelming student desire for the kind of food regularly produced in Berkeley’s kitchen.
“When we put in a grass-fed burger there, or a pizza here, the response we got was that students wanted more of it,” YSFP associate director Melina Shannon-DiPietro said. “We heard stories of students swiping into Trumbull, and then walking down to Berkeley with a tray and a little bit of food so they could act like they’d already swiped in to Berkeley. We had a story of people counterfeiting IDs to get in. We’re really working as best we can to meet that demand.”
The Berkeley dining hall currently serves as a test kitchen for the new organic menu items, but the food’s popularity led to restrictions on the meals eaten there by non-Berkeley residents. Transfers to Berkeley nearly doubled from about 1,600 meals per week to 3,000 during a month-long period without the restrictions last spring, prompting dining officials to reexamine the viability of similar food in greater quantities elsewhere on campus.
Though Berkeley is the laboratory of sorts, organic meals in the other residential colleges are now ordered and prepared by staff within each dining hall. Dining Services executive director Don McQuarrie said a comprehensive retraining program for roughly one third of the 380-member dining staff was the most important step toward increasing homogeneous sustainable food production.
The primary focus of the retraining was to teach the menu and meal preparation, McQuarrie said. But another priority, he said, was the promotion of camaraderie among employees.
“It was the first time managers and staff worked side by side as peers,” McQuarrie said. “What we hoped it would do is promote some consistency throughout the levels and break down some walls.”
McQuarrie said dining services has also received $400,000 for capital projects, roughly double what the department was granted during the last fiscal year. Some of the money was spent on new equipment for the Commons Dining Hall and the Hall of Graduate Studies servery, said Ernst Huff, the associate vice president for student financial and administrative services.
More cosmetic work to these eateries is planned for next summer, but the addition of a full service sandwich counter to Durfee’s is also nearing completion, scheduled to open before the close of the semester. In addition, new licensing deals totaling roughly $100,000 will bring Quizno’s sandwiches and other brand-name entrees to the menu at the Donaldson Commons Dining Hall across from the School of Management, McQuarrie said.
For the YSFP, DiPietro said the items that will soon be available for all dining halls include organic salsa, buffalo chicken pizza and a number of other foods. Though the Berkeley test kitchen is not foolproof, she said — citing a falafel served last year that she said reminded her of gravel — DiPietro said she is confident in the abilities of the dining staff.
Executive chef Cathy Jones said the new menu items will depend primarily on popularity and feasibility based on preparation time.
“It’s all about pleasing people,” Jones said. “We have a lot of people we’ve got to please.”