In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how the University of Rochester’s Dining Services values sustainability and how we can all individually play a role in embodying that value.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is the umbrella term for avoidance of depletion of the Earth’s natural resources by choosing maintainable, conscientious, and innovative practices and actions. For college dining services, sustainability often equates to energy efficiency, low waste, and local sources. As you can imagine, lots of resources go into providing food for 6000+ students of the university. Our campus Dining Services strives to reduce waste or use eco-friendly products and actions when waste is necessary, and choose local sources.

How does the University of Rochester’s Dining Services focus on sustainability?

Dining Services sources locally. UR prioritizes New York state businesses as suppliers of the food served on campus. Producers in closer proximity to Rochester are given preference. Some of the local businesses we support include Fisher Hill Farm, Java’s, Hedonist Artison, Kilcoyne Farms, and Headwater Food Hub.

UR also minimizes waste by encouraging students to reduce personal waste with programs like eco clamshells at the dining halls, mug refill prices at all the coffee locations on campus, and reusable bag discounts at Hillside Market. Danforth composts all  pre- and post-consumer waste. At Douglass, leftover waste is added to a biodigester to break down the organic material and produce renewable energy called biogas, as well as fertilizer. All of the cafés on campus also compost all the leftover coffee grinds, which is a huge amount of composting as you can guess from our student body’s caffeine habits.

Dining Services recently replaced Blimpies and Panda, two companies serving food in the Pit, with their own UR brands. Choosing our own brands, though supplying similar menus, has given UR the ability to choose local and varied products to be served at these locations. There is now more freedom to edit the menu to favor student preferences and health, as well as the University of Rochester’s overall sustainability goals. Dining Services is also recently striving towards clean-eating and plant-forward menu planning. With the help of the Student Association of Vegan and Vegetarian Youth (SAAVY), Dining Services is working towards providing better, more varied plant-based options at all dining locations.

How can I help?

There are lots of ways be sustainable as a consumer on campus. Take advantage of the awesome initiatives on campus like our water bottle refill stations and our eco clamshells at the dining halls. Take the portions you think you can actually finish- that way, you can reduce your personal food waste. Purchase your own silverware, plates, reusable bags, reusable mugs, and Tupperware containers to reduce plastic use. Take advantage of the mug refill program, where you can purchase hot or iced coffee or tea for under $2.00 if you bring your reusable mug to any of the cafés on campus. Vegan and vegetarian diets have a lower carbon footprint compared to other diets, the World Wildlife Fund reports. Overall, pay attention to the waste you create in your daily life and think creatively about ways you can avoid or reduce the behaviors that create that waste. If you have thoughts on how our campus can improve sustainability, speak your mind! Contact Dining Services to give them your opinion.

Why is sustainability important?

You might be wondering why our campus Dining Services should focus on sustainability, anyway. There are a number of economic, ecological, social, and health benefits to choosing sustainable methods of providing great food.

Buying local returns economic resources to New York state and builds up local businesses. It reduces our carbon footprint since our food doesn’t have to travel as far to get to campus. The food served on campus also is fresher and has fewer preservatives since it can reach our campus earlier. When we have better tracking on where our food comes from, we can react appropriately in the event of foodborne illness on campus. Buying local builds the university’s rapport with the broader Rochester community. And the biggest benefit of all, these communal and individual practices respect our Earth and move towards a healthier and stronger future planet.

By Charlotte Pillow
Peer Health Advocate
Class of 2019