Chances are you've eaten in one of the numerous campus dining halls at least once. Maybe you know the ins and outs of grabbing a tray, filling it with whichever items look the most delicious and waiting in line to get your WisCard swiped. But some things about the dining hall experience are not obvious, even to the most frequent diner, including efforts to make the dining halls more environmentally friendly. From composting to featuring sustainable dinners to harvesting herbs from campus gardens, University Housing and Dining Services has been actively pursuing a greener meal-time experience since the late ‘90s, according to Associate Director of Dining and Culinary Services Julie Luke.
Current environmentally friendly projects include composting all pre-consumer waste involved in kitchen preparation. Four- to-six cumulative tons go to the West Madison Agricultural Station from campus, withHousing, Wisconsin Union, Athletics and University Hospital contributing annually. This project began last summer, and though no specific dates have been set, there are plans to implement post-consumer composting in all dining halls.
Arrangements are also underway to make cutting and washing fresh produce in dining hall kitchens more feasible. Currently, a majority of produce used in the dining halls arrives already cleaned and cut. While this system is effective for serving the high volume of diners that pass through every day, it puts barriers on how much fresh and local produce staff can realistically prep and serve. Plans for the new Gordon Commons and the new Lakeshore Complex, both slated for completion in 2012, will include equipment that will make cleaning and cutting fresh produce more realistic. About 11 percent of Dining Services purchases come from within the state of Wisconsin. Dining Staff plan to increase this to 15 percent by the end of 2010.
Several dining halls feature ""special event meals"" highlighting menu items made from locally sourced foods. These ingredients come from distributors like Simply Wisconsin and Badgerland Produce, with some even coming from campus' own Allen Centennial Gardens. Rheta's Dining Hall partners with Slow Food UW to offer a locally-sourced menu every Friday. The menu rotates between breakfast and dinner.
According to Barb Phelan, assistant director of Dining and Culinary Services, the local meals at Rheta's will be offered through the end of this semester and will continue next fall. Local options will be more accessible at Frank's Place in Lakeshore this fall as well. Ten locally sourced entrees will be offered throughout the course each week at the made to order station.
While Dining Services' sustainable efforts have expanded over the years, Phelan and Luke feel there is still much more that can be done to make the facilities greener. There are many barriers to being able to offer locally sourced foods in a facility like a University dining hall, including providing food for such a large number of people each day.
""We care about the greater good with a number of things,"" said Luke. ""But it's also our job to care about what sells and be responsible stewards of students' money.""
If students want to see more sustainable food options on campus, the best thing they can do is let staff know.
""We'd love more input from clientele,"" Luke added. ""Whether it be through filling out a comment card, talking with the staff in the dining halls or simply buying the local foods that are available.""
Excited to start supporting these local options? This Friday from 5-6 p.m, you can enjoy a locally sourced dinner at Rheta's Dining Hall in Chadbourne. Every featured item will be made from ingredients sourced from within a 200-mile radius of Madison, right down to the organic butter from LaFarge you might spread on your slice of bread from Clasen's bakery in Middleton. The menu will also feature locally sourced, made-to-order burgers, portobello mushroom burgers, homemade fries and pasta from Madison-based RP's Pasta. You can find the full menu and more information about the weekly sustainable meals at Rheta's at www.housing.wisc.edu.