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Skidmore College

Earth Week focus: Sustainable dining and service

April 19, 2016

Skidmore’s Sustainability Office and Dining Services are introducing a new initiative for Earth Week, the campus lead-up to the international celebration of Earth Day on April 22.

On Tuesday, April 19, Murray-Aikins Dining Hall will host “low-impact dining,” featuring a “veg-centric” menu of locally sourced food. Among the highlights of the day’s menu: juices and smoothies at a Smoothie Café, and breakfast that includes local, certified humane eggs from New Hampshire, yogurt bar featuring Green Mountain Yogurt (from Vermont) and Argyle Cheese Farmer products from in Argyle, N.Y., as well as pancakes topped with maple syrup from Mapleland Farms in Salem, N.Y.

The chicken is locally sourced (and certified humane) from Murray’s Chicken in South Falsberg, N.Y., and other local meats from the Northeast Family Farms Program are sourced from farms throughout the New England region, Greek-style spanakopita and chicken-and-feta meatballs as a dinner selection, a Ramen noodle bar, and a tortellini bar with a freshly prepared sauces and toppings.

Before the inaugural low-impact dining event, gorgeous weekend weather boosted attendance at a North Woods walk led by mycologist and former Skidmore faculty member Sue Van Hook. The second annual Sustainability Service Day, organized by Emily Davidson and the student S-Reps, also drew many volunteers, who worked at the campus community garden and compost sites as well as at the Food Bank Farm in Voorheesville, N.Y. Other sustainable service projects included North Woods trail maintenance and invasive species removal, and trail maintenance at  Orra Phelps Land Preserve. Earth Week activities are summarized here.

Low-impact dining has been the core of the annual Menus of Change conferences held by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health since 2012.

The idea is to highlight the large amounts of fuel and water needed to produce meat protein, and to change eating habits that may no longer be sustainable as the world’s population continues to balloon.

Skidmore’s top chef, James Rose, has attended Menus of Change meetings. Coincidentally, Bryn Sarner ’18, a vegetarian from New Jersey who came to Skidmore after a campus visit that included a meal at Emily’s Garden, was eager to raise awareness about meat-free options available on campus. Now vegan, Sarner is also a sustainability intern at Murray-Aikins Dining Hall.

Not long ago, she attempted to introduce a “meatless Monday” in the dining hall, but she got a lot of pushback from peers. “I realized that this might require a learning curve,” said Sarner. “Now I have different perspectives, and I think that ‘low-impact’ may be a better way to encourage people to consider going meatless.” Sarner added that college is the perfect place to raise awareness about meat-free dining options and sustainable food production, because “that is when people start forming adult eating habits.” Low-impact dining preserves meat options at every meal, with an emphasis on local sourcing.

She found willing partners in Chef Rose and Mark Miller, director of Dining Services. Said Miller, “We are changing the way that people eat. People will still get their meat protein, but it will be in smaller portions.” He explained that Skidmore began serving smaller portions about nine years ago, when the College purchased smaller plates. Of course, patrons are welcome to go back for seconds. But he agrees with Sarner that moderation is key: “We have students from 33 countries and all the states. Eating habits vary widely. We don’t want to eliminate something that could be a student’s favorite food,” he said.

Students in community garden by emily davidson
Students work in community garden last Sunday. (Emily
Davidson photo)

Levi Rogers, head of Skidmore’s Sustainability Office, explained that many people have worked “tirelessly to get Skidmore to shift to more local and sustainable food options. We have student interns that research new food options every semester, faculty that incorporate food and sourcing into curriculum, and student leaders who helped to start the conversation about local and sustainable food years ago.  Since then we’ve made significant strides, thanks to the support from Dining Services.”

Rogers feels that a shift toward low-impact dining is a shift toward Skidmore habits over all. “Sustainability is in our strategic plan,” he pointed out. “We are acting on those values to make the impact of our dining hall sustainable. The effect could be significant, especially when coupled with local sourcing,” he added.

Since 2011, Skidmore's student-run compost program has diverted over 40,000 pounds of food waste from landfills

For April 19, Rose wanted to develop a “wow” factor not only to impress, but also to demonstrate how filling and tasty a near-meatless day of eating can be. His “wow” venue may be the Smoothie Café, scheduled for lunchtime, or it could be the “Superfoods Bar” of fruits and vegetables as a dinner option at Emily’s Garden.

Sarner’s goal for Tuesday is to help educate her peers and other dining guests. “I hope that people will have a better idea about sustainable and healthy options, as well as the importance of supporting local food sources,” she said. Rogers added, “Everywhere they look, people will get a sense of where the food was grown or produced, the impact on the environment, and the health benefits.”

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