Yale Dining vendors scrutinized

When Yale Dining dropped a bread vendor, students in the dining halls scarcely noticed.

But one city lawmaker is “appalled” by the decision, saying it calls into question the University’s commitment to local sustainability.

During a public meeting between the New Haven Board of Alders and Yale President Peter Salovey in March, Dwight Alder Frank Douglass criticized the University for terminating a long-standing partnership with Lupi-Marchigiano Bakery in the Hill neighborhood. Douglass — who worked as a chef for Yale Dining for 20 years — said abandoning the family-owned business does a disservice to the local economy.

“To sustain our community, we need to involve our community and use our local community vendors,” Douglass said. “Are you helping out our local economy, or are you trying to destroy it?”

Lupi-Marchigiano owner Peter Lupi was surprised when Yale Dining representatives called him early last year to notify him that the University had decided to stop purchasing bread from his bakery.

Although Lupi did not have a formal contract with Yale Dining, he had supplied its bread for 60 years and did not expect a change in the long-standing relationship.

“We honored Yale,” he said. “They would always have our best pricing.”

Director of Supply Management and Sustainability Gerry Remer did not give comment on the shift in bread vendors. Instead, she touted the University’s support for other New Haven vendors and Yale’s commitment to decreasing environmental impact in the area. Yale obtains products from different regional and local vendors via two primary distributors, U.S. Foods and Fresh Point.

Remer said that using a distributor, rather than coordinating directly with individual suppliers, has the advantage of reducing transportation costs and impact. Rather than having multiple separate deliveries from different vendors, the distributor requires only two or three trucks a week.

“For environmental impact and efficiency, [this] is much preferred to having multiple small deliveries stopping at all of our locations,” Remer said in an email.
Sustainability Food System Coordinator Leila Virji said U.S. Foods also provides additional advantages to Yale as it ensures proper certification and insurance in working with the vendors.

Still, Douglass said that because Yale now uses a distributor, the bread sits in a warehouse for two days in West Haven before it is delivered to the dining halls. He added that bread from Lupi’s was always fresh, saying the shop baked its bread at 2 a.m. and delivered by 6 a.m. Lupi said his understanding was that the University ended business with his bakery because it “wanted to get trucks off the road,” but added that his trucks still drive the same route, which cuts through Yale’s campus.

Remer said working with a regional distributor allows Yale Dining to gather the necessary quantity and variety of bread products to match the scale of the dining operations. She said this distributor enables Yale to streamline its ordering while also supporting local businesses such as Whole G, an all-natural bread company in New Haven.

Whole G manager Dowel Raha commended Yale for its desire to work with local businesses. She said she appreciates Yale’s support for her company, which values high-quality products and healthy ingredients.

Virji said 37 percent of the products served in Yale Dining halls meet at least one criteria of sustainability, which include proximity, eco-sensitivity, humane treatment and fair trade.

In order to further availability and affordability, Virji suggested “group purchasing” — in which peer institutions work with suppliers to order large quantities of product as a means to allow sustainable, humane and local goods to be available at a competitive cost. Although specific contracts for this group purchasing initiative have not been secured, she said that Yale Dining is exploring whether this would be feasible in providing seafood and fish products in dining halls.

Sophie Mendelson ’15, student farm manager for the Yale Sustainable Food Project, praised Yale Dining’s commitment to sustainable practices and its role in the community, but said that she sees areas for improvement as well.

She said that it is often difficult for large institutions to work directly with small vendors because they cannot provide or grow the vast quantities necessary to support the operations of a school like Yale.

She added, however, that achieving sustainability is more than checking off a list of criteria and must be considered more holistically.

“It is frustrating to see the label of sustainable in the dining halls when it can be an empty word in this context,” she said.

Virji hopes to increase communication between Yale Dining and students to create transparency about the types of initiatives already in place. She proposed posters that describe Yale’s waste practices or provide farm-level narratives describing the journey of certain foods.

On a standard menu, Yale Dining’s bread options include white, hard crust rye, stoneground whole wheat hard rolls and tortilla wraps.

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