BUCKLEY & BILDNER: Yale is digging in

Food cannot be something we only think about at Yale when we step into a dining hall or swipe through Durfee’s. The act of eating has deep social, political and environmental implications, and discussions about our food need to move out of the dining halls and into Yale’s classrooms. Whether it be discourse about agriculture policy, nutritional science, food justice issues, land management strategy or agricultural science, food must have a place at the academic table.

You don’t need us to remind you that Yale excels in countless fields. But what is less well known is that this university is one of the only institutions around the nation that is taking food seriously from multiple angles; whether it’s what Yale Dining is doing in the realm of sustainable procurement or the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s unprecedented approach to educating food literate leaders, our school doesn’t treat food as simply something to munch on.

What’s going on in our dining halls is pretty exceptional, although most students don’t even realize it. Whether it’s the dining hall’s plant-based proteins, catch of the day or the local and sustainable ingredients used in every one of the 14,000 meals per day that is served on campus, Yale Dining is doing its best to ensure that the food you scoop onto your plate is the best it can be for the community, planet and your body.

Yale Dining is also working hard outside the dining halls to promote a sustainable, resilient food network in New England. Yale Dining is leading an initiative to leverage institutional buying power to increase the amount of local and sustainable food in university dining halls, schools and hospitals all over New England — a project that will have ramifications for what’s served for lunch in New Haven public schools and at schools all over the region. As a student research assistant for Yale Dining,

Alice is constantly surprised by how little students seem to know about the ripples Yale Dining is making in the world of sustainable agriculture. There typically aren’t a lot of conversations between students and Yale Dining beyond a general appeal for more chicken tenders — but there is incredible potential to work with students in the coming year to increase access to socially, ecologically and economically viable food far beyond the walls of Yale.

Less than a mile from the Yale Dining offices on Church Street, the Yale Sustainable Food Project is doing work in the food world that deserves major attention. When the YSFP initially formed just over ten years ago, it did so in response to student demand for more sustainably- and ecologically-sound options in the college dining halls. A dedicated group of students got together and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become an organization leading the conversation surrounding sustainable food and agriculture at Yale and beyond. As a student farm manager, Rafi has seen first-hand the innovative work the YSFP is doing, ones that go far beyond the one-acre plot of land on Edwards Street.

A few weeks ago, the YSFP hosted its 10-year anniversary celebration and brought alumni back to campus that have been involved in the project over the last decade. Leaders from every corner of the food and agriculture world — policymakers working on sustainable agriculture issues within the Farm Bill, Peabody-winning documentary filmmakers and food scientists working on nutrition policy — all in one room, united by their ties to the YSFP and commitment to a future of sustainable food. The YSFP is producing food literate leaders, from farmers to policy makers, chefs to community activists, ready to tackle challenging issues within our food system.

It’s almost the end of another school year and, in just a couple of weeks, folks will be out of New Haven and onto summer adventures. But when we return to campus next fall, it’s critical to keep this dialogue going. Yale isn’t an “ag school,” but it is holding its own as an institution committed to taking food seriously.

There is much work to be done: It’s vital that we promote an interdisciplinary food concentration in order to provide students with a formal academic track to guide their studies in this area. And logically, this is the next step that Yale must take to further its already strong commitment to this field.

Yale has shown up to the table in a major way. But what’s even more exciting is that we’re just starting to dig in.

Alice Buckley is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at alice.buckley@yale.edu. rafi bildner is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at rafi.bildner@yale.edu .

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