Yalies who assume that the sustainable food they consume in the dining halls is better for them than the standard fare may be in for a rude awakening later this month.
Starting next week, the Yale Sustainable Food Project will display nutritional information for sustainable menu items on the name placards placed above food in the dining halls. In the past, this information was available only for non-sustainable food served in the cafeteria.
Laura Hess ’06, YSFP program coordinator, said there is an increasing demand for this information among the student body.
“When we started the program in the Berkeley dining hall, there wasn’t a student demand for this type of information,” she said. “Now that we’ve expanded it, it’s reaching more people, and they have questions. So we’re giving them the information, and we feel good about it.”
What the nutritional information will reflect is that sustainable food is often sautéed in a sustainable butter, which contains more saturated fat than the cooking oils used for non-sustainable foods.
“They’re not using unhealthy ingredients,” said nutritionist Karen Dougherty, database manager for Dining Services. “But the American public has been told to cut back on certain things, and they’re not necessarily following that … If you want to cut back on fat, you could consider [sustainable food] unhealthy for you.”
Dining Services officials said the original lack of nutritional information may have resulted from several factors, such as YSFP — a separate entity from Dining Services — possibly wanting to de-emphasize the nutritional facts.
“[YSFP] wanted to put an emphasis on the food, taste and its coming from the land, rather than numbers,” Dougherty said.
Dining Services Director Don McQuarrie said the initial purpose of the YSFP placards was simply to differentiate the food from non-sustainable options so that people could quickly identify YSFP options.
Another reason for the initial lack of information on the placards might have been fear that the information may not reflect the most healthy qualities of sustainable food, Dougherty said.
“Cutting edge research indicates that there is validity to the claim that sustainable food has more vitamins,” she said. “The nutrition information won’t necessarily reflect these findings, because the USDA database that we use hasn’t caught up with them.”
In fact, the push for this change did not come from weight-conscious students but rather from students with specific dietary needs and food allergies.
Many Yale students said they welcome the change. As a vegan, Ted Palenski ’10 said he believes the information will be of particular use to him in discerning which foods he can eat.
“Without the nutrition facts on sustainable food, I never knew if it was vegan or not,” he said.
While most students said the nutritional facts may be useful, they said the information probably will not affect their dietary choices.
“It won’t affect what I eat,” Adam Varner ’07 said. “I eat what I like, and I like the sustainable food better.”
Because sustainable food nutrition facts have always been available on the Yale Dining Services Web site, many students who were most likely to be affected by the change already had the information.
“The new information is unnecessary,” Fernanda Lopez ’10 said. “If people are concerned with their weights, they could always have just gone online.”
McQuarrie said what matters the most in terms of nutrition is the quantity of food that students consume overall, not the caloric content of individual items.
“It’s comparable [in nutrition],” he said. “I think that nutritionally what people should be concerned about is how that meal relates to what they eat for the day and for the week. I think those things are people’s choice.”
And as Lopez pointed out, if all else fails, she can fall back on the old standard.
“There’s always cereal,” she said.