In one way or another, food quality affects every aspect of life at Yale. The quality of the food in the residential college dining halls plays a central role in defining the times we share with the people we meet here. It affects our health and the energy we can devote to pursuing academic interests and participating in college life. Because of its central role in the Yale experience, residential college dining hall food deserves the attention of the administration.
The way to provide the best food quality at Yale is through the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which brings local and organic food to Yale’s dining halls and gives students access to the Yale Farm. In the Yale Dining Services survey that nearly 2,000 students filled out last fall, 83 percent of respondents rated Sustainable Food Project offerings at a higher quality than regular dining hall fare. Students are overwhelmingly calling for the expansion of the Sustainable Food Project in order to receive good dining hall food.
During a period of one and a half weeks, more than 2,400 students signed a petition calling for the expansion of the full YSFP menu to all dining halls. More than 500 students took an online survey about food quality, and 80 percent said they would eat in their residential college more frequently if their college served all sustainable food. Many students commented that dining hall food was the deciding factor for them in choosing whether to live on- or off-campus.
These results support the Dining Services survey. The high number of respondents — nearly half the undergraduate student body — reveals just how much Yalies care about dining. In a five-option survey question, 60 percent of students said they strongly value the quality of food in their dining experience as compared to other measures of value such as price, portions and overall experience. Moreover, the vast majority of students — 90 percent of them — said it was important to see the YSFP further expand in their residential college, and nearly half of students said expansion was extremely important.
The Sustainable Food Project, which is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the nation, has been lauded in the pages of The New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly. High school students are seeing YSFP as one of the major assets that Yale offers over other top-tier universities. The Sustainable Food Project is part of a larger initiative by the administration to become a leader in environmental responsibility. The University has demonstrated its commitment through the creation last year of the Office of Sustainability and President Levin’s announcement in October that the University would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from the 1990 level by 2020. And other universities are taking note. The recent startup of sustainable dining programs at rival institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and Princeton demonstrates the leadership role Yale has played so far, and underscores the broad student support behind these programs.
Not only does the Sustainable Food Project bring better food to dining halls, it provides tremendous educational opportunities for students. Whether students are visiting the Yale Farm with their biology professors, reading about the origins of YSFP honey from a table tent or taking classes on sustainable agriculture, the Sustainable Food Project is helping students understand the complex issues of food production and distribution that will increasingly face world leaders in the coming decades.
If the Sustainable Food Project is so important to students’ education and quality of life, and so beneficial to Yale’s reputation, why not commit now to a full sustainable food menu in all dining halls? Some point to cost as a barrier. It’s not. First, the YSFP is far less expensive now than it was several years ago, and expanding the Sustainable Food Project will further lower the marginal cost of the food as economies of scale are realized.
Second, the allotment of money at Yale is a matter of priorities; money will go where there is student support for spending. Now that it is clear how much students care about having delicious, sustainable food available throughout their dining halls, and now that sustainable food costs have decreased, Yale should make a long-term commitment to a full Sustainable Food Project expansion.
The administration will soon decide its food budget for next year. By expanding the YSFP, Yale will better educate future decision-makers and top thinkers in issues that will face them in an increasingly globalized world. The University will fortify its position as academia’s leader in sustainability. And by bringing fresh, local food to all of Yale’s dining halls, Yale will respond to a student body overwhelmingly eager for the Sustainable Food Project to grow.
Wells O’Byrne is a junior in Saybrook College. Emily Kruger is a sophomore in Morse College. Chelsea Purvis is a senior in Ezra Stiles College.