Students push for sustainable dining at Ithaca College
The typical American consumes approximately three hamburgers and four orders of french fries every week, according to Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. The typical college student probably eats twice as many. On a crunch for time, students opt for the easy dining choices. These are usually unhealthy, processed and filled with preservatives -— it’s fast food. However, Ithaca College students are looking for Sodexo, the college’s food provider, to slow it down.
Slowfood Ithaca College is an environmental organization on campus, a chapter of the national Slowfood movement, petitioning for healthier, local food choices in campus dining halls. It strives to preserve regional foods and encourages farming that keeps the local ecosystem and economic system thriving.
Slowfood members want Sodexo to expand their organic and locally bought dining options. Slowfood also seeks to implement a labeling system in the dining halls so students know what is in their food and where it is coming from — even disclosing the number of gas miles needed to get the food on campus.
Co-president of Slowfood, Emily Shaw, said the only way to meet these objectives is to show a demand from students. Ithaca College stresses sustainability as one of their most important values, but Shaw said the college is more narrowly focused on their LEED buildings, rather than their food options.
Members of the college community are asking if students are educated enough on sustainablity and food’s impact on the environment at the college that prides itself on that very value.
In a discussion panel about eating and buying local on campus in IC Square on Nov. 17, the panelists agreed many freshmen and sophomores know little about what “local” is and by the time they do understand they are not on campus anymore so it is not their problem. Slowfood is defining “local” as within 250 miles of Ithaca College — organic foods, fair trade, equal trade, etc.
Sodexo advertises itself as a sustainably conscious institution.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility to use our resources wisely and to protect them for future generations,” the company website states. “Natural materials, foods, and packaging, proper farming and trade practices and innovative recycling programs are just a few of our sustainable practices.”
However, Sodexo at Ithaca College, only purchases 10 percent of its food locally — distributed only from the Fresh Food Market at the Towers Dining Hall, according to Slowfood Ithaca College’s website.
Shaw said Sodexo should meet its advertising claims.
“You can’t just slap a leaf on something, color it green, and call it sustainable,” Shaw said. “It has to be backed up with those words and we are hoping to aid in that change and aid in living up to that name.”
There are a few complications with an institution as large as a college buying locally. Many local farmers do not have the resources to meet the strict regulation requirements of this type of high-risk institution. Even if local farms passed these strict regulations, many of the foods students want to eat year round (i.e. fruits) could not be entirely produced locally because of the high demand and the want for fruits all year that may not be in season or able to grow locally. Also, there are many financial concerns seeing that buying organic tends to be more expensive. Processed foods are not only convenient, but also cheap.
However, students are pushing for sustainability in their dining halls, and the campus has responded.Trayless dining was an initiative to reduce the amount of water and detergents used during tray washing. Between 1/2 and 3/4 of a gallon of water is used for every tray during washing, beginning at the Campus Center dining hall in 2008. Using a tray statistically causes people to take more food.
Since the Ithaca Dining Service’s energy audit in 2009, they have installed significantly more efficient appliances including ovens, dish washing machines and LED lighting. Sodexo has also trained staff on using the equipment to maximize efficiency.
Sodexo student intern Spencer Grossman said it is these initiatives that allow Sodexo to stay true to their mission. He said sustainability is not solely about food, but the entire process.
“Students are voting every time they eat,” Grossman said, “I’m not suggesting that students stop eating if they don’t want Sodexo as a food service provider, but that they choose more carefully the items they eat and buy if they want a change in the food available to them. Support the good things that Sodexo is doing and make them and the college want to do more. I believe that both IC and Sodexo want to do more in the realm of sustainability, but to kick it into high gear students need to show support.”
To show this support, Slowfood sponsored a Fresh Food Market Flash Mob on Friday, Dec. 2. The mob was in response to Sodexo encouraging students to show demand for the food they want. Stephanie Peich, Sodexo Sustainability Coordinator, said she was pleased by these student efforts.
“I think its great. What I have tried to empower many students, including Slowfood students, to do is to eat at the places where we do offer things that they like or that they agree with or support, like the Fresh Food Market; because that’s where we can expand if they show their support by actually eating there,” said Peich.
Though the mob had a small turnout, members of Slowfood Ithaca College were still pleased with the message they were able to spread.
“I think because it is a relatively small dining hall we got all the attention of the dining hall, and we pretty much got the petition going and I think it went well. People are noticing that we are trying to increase the local and organic food in the dining hall,” said junior Sachiko Ishihara.
Slowfood Ithaca College meets on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Circle 150-08.
Meagan McGinnes is a sophomore journalism major who only eats food that’s traveled across the globe. Email her at mmcginn1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.