In recent weeks, Berkeley College has announced plans to convert to organic food, starting a buzz that has won it a moment of national attention. Though Yalies may wonder what all the fuss is about — particularly when there is still vegan shepherd’s pie on the menu — Yale’s dining halls are doing something right.
Or, at very least, one of them is.
Whether it works and whether it is worth it are yet to be seen. But consequences notwithstanding, but it is clear Yale’s and Berkeley’s move to more environmentally friendly food is one that deserves attention — if for no other reason than the creativity and progressive thought that went into the project.
The plan now is to incorporate organic, locally grown foods, including organic coffee, condiments, breads and salad ingredients, into the regular menu by the fall of next year. Inspired by last year’s Farming and Eating in New England Conference, the program is ambitious and likely to be costly. But it would provide students with healthier food options and, as its centerpiece, would support local farmers. Yale has said it will absorb the added cost if the program seems to work.
The push toward organic has been a trend, both at Yale and around the country, for a number of years. Once limited to hippies and FOOTies, vegetarians and environmentalists, it has found a wider spotlight recently. Organic food is now the fastest-growing sector of the food industry; just last month, the Agriculture Department instituted a rigid set of standards to be applied in determining whether any given food can be officially deemed “organic.”
Other school cafeterias around the country have made recent attempts to convert with limited success. There is little telling evidence Yale’s will do much better because it has just started, Berkeley College has already received a share of media kudos for its efforts.
According to a Wall Street Journal collegiate taste-tester, the Berkeley College dining experience as it stands now is the best in the nation. In a review published Nov. 8, the reporter gave Yale’s soon-to-be-organic dining hall four stars out of four, ranking it above 19 other university cafeterias. She cited the hall’s wide leather chairs, custom china, soup spoons, and its impending switch to hormone- and pesticide-free food. The vegan shepherd’s pie received low marks, though. And rightfully so.
Harvard, on the other hand, suffered deductions for 16 reported cases of gastroenteritis last year alone, which the University denies is connected to its food service. Its Annenberg Hall came away with only two and a half stars. Other members of the Ivy League scored with similar mediocrity.
So Yale again has calibrated the scales and won itself bragging rights for innovation. Again the University has distinguished itself as a brave unilateral actor — only this time for its change in food service policy. If nothing else, the effort is an admirable one. Should it also prove a tasty one, hopefully the conversion will spread quickly to the other dining halls around campus.