Dining Services is beefing up its sustainability efforts.
Dining swapped its fish, chicken, and pork vendors over the summer as an effort to make dining hall dishes more local and healthier for the environment. Dining Services Director Vicki Dunn says that about 55 percent of all dining food now comes from vendors within a 250-mile radius of the Morningside Heights campus.
And as a way to raise awareness of the need for a reduction in meat consumption, Dining Services joined the global Green Monday initiative by imitating Meatless Mondays.
One day a week, on Mondays, Dining Services promotes green lifestyle choices through meat reduction for dinner and plenty of vegetarian dishes, like the wild mushroom ravioli served as an entrée last week.
The dining team has also started working with food provider Sysco to ensure that it is buying wholesale and socially responsible fish from recommended vendors. Dining typically makes 400 pounds of fish a night, according to Executive Director of Dining Services, Vicki Dunn.
Fish purchases at the dining halls have been following Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines for years in order to avoid overfishing—a form of overexploitation where fish populations are reduced to unsustainable levels. The Seafood Watch program helps businesses choose seafood that has been farmed in safe ways.
John Jay, Ferris Booth Commons, and JJ's Place all now serve organic and antibiotic-free chickens from Murray's Chickens in New York and New Jersey.
The chickens from Murray's are raised on an all-natural vegetarian diet of 100 percent soybeans and corn. The free-range chicken is also free of genetically modified organisms, meaning their DNA has not been altered by genetic engineering techniques.
Dining also switched pork vendors this summer. While the beef is not grass-fed—grass-fed beef is four times more expensive—Dunn noted the meat is locally sourced, with burgers produced in New Jersey and other beef coming from Massachusetts.
The new changes are another way that Dining is showing its chops when it comes to sustainability. Dunn said that efforts to go greener have been in place since at least 2007, when she came to Columbia.
“What it comes down to is looking at each year and increasing our sustainability efforts,” Dunn said. “As sustainability is becoming more important to people, there's more opportunities for us to increase those efforts.”
Many other foods at the dining halls have followed the sustainability route in the past, including GMO-free milk sourced from Pennsylvania, cage free eggs, and fair trade coffee roasted by the Brooklyn Roasting Company.
Dining halls also went trayless in 2008, reducing waste per meal from 300 pounds to 144.
EcoRep Grayson Warrick, CC '16, said he appreciates that the dining halls are becoming more socially and environmentally conscious, but says there's still more to be done.
“I think that they could improve their composting,” he said. “If I recall correctly, most of the silverware and dishware is compostable, as the food is as well...but I don't see a big effort to capitalize on that fact.”