Going green: Five ways Dining Services is making your lunch more sustainable – The Source


From reducing waste to cooking with local produce, Washington University Food Services in St. Louis strives to make its offerings and operations more sustainable. This Earth Day, Andrew Watling, Associate Director of Restaurant Operations, shares five ways campus kitchens are making a difference.

Promoting plant-based alternatives

In an effort to reduce meat consumption, Food Services now offers a plant-based whole meal at every restaurant on campus. Examples include Malaysian Coconut Curry Tofu at Bear’s Den, Beyond Burger Smoky BBQ at Parkside Cafe, and African Red Potato and Chickpea Tagine at Danforth University Center.

Each restaurant on campus offers a rotation of satisfying, plant-based meals. (Photo: Carol Green/University of Washington)

“It’s really an American mindset to have meat at every meal,” Watling explained. “There is also a misconception that a vegetarian meal will not be filling. We strive to change these attitudes by offering a variety of truly delicious and truly satisfying dishes. Our short-term goal is for students to have at least one meat-free day per week – a significant change from current habits.

The Office of Sustainability supports Dining’s efforts through its “Evergreen Challenge,” an annual event that strives to educate students about the variety of plant-based meal options available.

Waste reduction

From single-use coffee cups to cooking grease to orange peels, campus restaurants produce a variety of waste streams. But thanks to university composting and recycling practices and education efforts, nearly half of restaurant-related waste is diverted from landfills.

To make on-the-go meals as sustainable as possible, Food Services is offering reusable “Eco 2go” containers, which can be requested and returned at a number of campuses. Compostable containers continue to be the default for every takeout order, as food services have built up stock in case of supply chain shortages.

Food composting, combined with cooking in small batches, has also significantly reduced kitchen waste, Watling said, noting that 120 tonnes of compost was collected between 2015 and 2020. Sustainability also offers composting resources for students who live both on and off campus.

Other efforts have also made a difference. Three large catering vehicles, for example, are powered by 50% biodiesel, made with recycled cooking oil. And the university’s ban on plastic water bottles — the first in the nation — keeps about 500,000 bottles out of the waste stream each year.

Local supply

Dining Services sells bagels from Bridge Bread, a nonprofit organization that provides jobs for homeless St. Louis residents. (Photo: Joe Angeles/University of Washington)

Cooking with local foods is another priority, especially in times of frequent supply chain disruptions. About 22% of Dining Service’s food budget goes to local suppliers such as HartBeet Farm and Heru Urban Farming. The percentage is even higher at Ibby’s, where around 75% of meals are locally sourced.

Programs such as the weekly farmers market at the faculty of medicine and Community Supported Agriculture Initiatives also offer students the opportunity to buy local products, meats and cheeses and to meet local farmers.

“St. Louis has a great food scene,” Watling said. “We want to help it thrive and create exposure.”

Sustainability Certification

Since 2017, some restaurants on campus have received annual accreditation from the Green Restoration Alliance (GDA). Part of the local nonprofit “Earthday365,” GDA promotes sustainability in St. Louis restaurants through holistic sustainability assessments. In fall 2021, three university restaurants achieved the highest possible GDA rating: Ibby’s, Farmstead Cafe at the School of Medicine, and Whittemore House, which grows native plant species, vegetables and herbs for its cuisine. .

GDA accreditation is based on an extensive 700-point audit system. Some measures are not surprising: local and sustainable procurement, composting, waste reduction, water consumption and energy efficiency. Other measures are less obvious – good door insulation, electronic (rather than paper) records, even the evaluation of customer behavior via food waste diaries. When these logs caused a local restaurant to discover that no one was eating their pickles, they stopped serving them, saving many pickles from the trash.

Work with student groups

Dining Services is not alone in its sustainability efforts, having a major ally in student groups such as the Burning Kumquat, a student-run organic garden; WashU Green Ambassadors, a peer education program, and the Student Sustainability Board, which helps make campus programs and events more sustainable.

Yash Singh, outgoing chair of the Student Sustainability Board, said a top priority was to limit the use of disposable boxes, utensils and cups.

“Changing campus culture isn’t just about individual student choice,” Singh said. “It’s about putting systems and resources in place to make sustainability the easier option.”

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