UVA Department of Urban & Environmental Planning: Local Thanksgiving

A local Thanksgiving meal brings to mind one word: Yum! Last Friday's dinner -- graciously hosted by UVA's Urban Planning Department -- lived up to expectations and then some, and anyone that argues that local food limits one's diet should have seen the spectacular array of dishes at St. Paul's: - breads, biscuits, cheeses, salads, casseroles, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, squash (of all varieties), stuffing, gravy, applesauce, raspberry ice cream, pumpkin spice cake, and of course Polyface turkey. How amazing to think that each of those food items had been grown and processed within Virginia, and ultimately prepared here in Charlottesville. The only item missing from a regular Thanksgiving feast was the cranberry sauce, but I didn't even notice it wasn't an option until halfway through my meal. I'll happily trade that cranberry sauce for everything else that was on my plate!

On a flattering note, the Planning Department identified a few of us in attendance as VIFs: Very Important Foodies. I'm reminded of all the work still cut out for me, but am driven to continue such work by the palpable sense of community present that night in response to our fundamental need for food -- not only in a survival sense, but also in a social sense. Sure food production is work, but it's also an opportunity to celebrate and build relationships every time we eat. I'll certainly keep that in mind as I gather with my family for Thanksgiving on Thursday.

For more information about eating locally, look to the 100 Mile Diet website (the inspiration for the Planning Department's first Local Thanksgiving feast four years ago). Happy local eating!


NWF Generation E Report

About a year ago I was asked to share my student-initiated food waste reduction success story with the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), as they were compiling accounts from current and former students from college campuses across the country into a comprehensive student environmental activism report. This report, "Generation E: Students Leading for a Sustainable Future," was just released this week and covers the spectrum of student involvement in sustainability initiatives in institutions of higher education, from greenhouse gas inventories to bicycle share programs, from student eco-rep programs to local food in dining halls.

One of the 35 topics is Trayless Dining: check out page 38 of the report for NWF's profile of (and my account of) UVa's food waste audit and ultimate move to trayless dining. There's even a vintage 2006 photograph of me and Suzanne Pinckney (CLAS '06) scraping plates!

I encourage you to give the report even just a quick look-over: there are lots of wonderfully concrete examples of student activism from a wide variety of schools; UVa could still stand to implement quite a few of those right here on our Grounds.


Movie screening success

Last night's screening of Food, Inc was a solid success: approximately 150 students and Charlottesville community members turned out to view the film! Looks like that publicity push really paid off... The most encouraging part about the audience last night was that the majority of faces there were unfamiliar; it was great to feel like I wasn't just preaching to the choir, but rather (as was my intent) was reaching a group of people that are just beginning their education about sustainable food.

After the film, Dining hosted a reception in the theater lobby and several groups graciously agreed to table the event - thanks to the UVA Community Garden, Slow Food UVA, the Student Council Sustainability Committee, the Nourish(meant) Project, and The Local Food Hub for joining Green Dining in sharing information about the alternatives to our currently petroleum dependent, corn-based, socially unjust, and consumer-disconnected food system.

At the reception, I asked students to write down their suggestions for ways that Dining can change in order to move away from that system, and I got some good ideas. Their suggestions are listed below, with my comments in green:
  • Continue advertising the reusable to-go container program and/or make it mandatory - I think going mandatory is a great idea, and will almost certainly happen at some point, especially if there is strong student support.
  • Promote vegetarian and vegan options in the dining halls - Food, Inc spends a lot of film time focusing on the problems with today's meat industry, and rightly so. There have been many conversations about a "Meatless Monday" - or something similar - in the dining halls, and I participated in a great webinar yesterday afternoon prior to the film screening that focused a great deal on Johns Hopkins' success with educating students about the environmental impact of consuming meat, as well as making their veggie/vegan options tastier and more appealing.
  • Organize a panel discussion re: Green Dining and inform students about the current obstacles to sourcing locally - Great idea.
  • Expand composting to all dining halls - All of the current UVA Dining waste at Panorama has been tested and confirmed that it is safe. The first batch of Panorama PayDirt that includes our organic waste was just sold (!) and we're moving forward with the DEQ to start composting at Runk next.
  • Work with The Local Food Hub - Local Food Hub director Kate Collier and purchasing & operations manager Alan Moore will be sitting down with Bryan Kelly and myself right before or after Thanksgiving to discuss current roadblocks in our attempts to partner with each other, and how to solve those issues so that Local Food Hub food can make more regular appearances on Grounds.
  • Increase amount of local food served in dining halls - Ongoing... Check out the Dining section of the UVa Sustainability webpage for greater details about our current local purchasing relationships and the other four components of our sustainable purchasing guidelines (seasonal, organic, humanely raised, and fairly traded): UVa Sustainability: Dining.
  • Take a Polyface farm tour - Dining probably won't organize an official trip to Polyface, since we don't purchase from Joel Salatin, but it is likely that we will organize a trip up to Wolf Creek Farm (in gorgeous Madison County), our current source of local and sustainably raised beef.
  • Donate unused portions of food to local organizations that can serve it - The Campus Kitchens Project is ironing out the final details so they can begin taking those unused portions and delivering them to the Charlottesville Salvation Army and other similar organizations.
  • Reduce plastic wrap use - I assume this was in reference to the Catering items that were wrapped in plastic for the post-film reception. Some plastic is necessary to avoid attracting flies, etc, as well as to convey to random passersby that the food is not available to them, but I agree that wrapping a tray three times over is on the excessive side (not to mention difficult to unwrap).
  • Campaign to reduce food waste - The two food waste audits conducted in the dining halls have both done a great job of putting this issue on students' radars, but I'm sure that re-evaluation is needed on the kitchen preparation side as well.
  • Hold cooking classes featuring organic and seasonal ingredients - Great idea!
  • Discourage Catering employees from discarding reusable items (plates, cups, etc) after events - I will take a look at the current policies.
  • Educate Aramark employees about food waste and the environmental arguments for purchasing organic and local items - Proper food portioning is always good to keep in mind. Jim Bleakley (HR Manager at UVa Dining) and I are working together to start an incentive program to make conservation efforts as routine a part of the work shift as safety currently is.

Further suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email (kendall.singleton@virginia.edu).


Local Food Workshop: Black Eagle Farm

A consistently rewarding part of this job is my ability to meet and establish relationships with local food producers -- especially because I don't have to travel far off Grounds to do so. A couple of weeks ago, I made it down to Black Eagle Farm, about forty minutes away in Nelson County, for the third and final presentation in a series of farm workshops organized by the VA Cooperative Extension. Black Eagle Farm is a gorgeous 1000-acre property that has been farmed since the 18th century. The current owner decided to preserve such historically agricultural land by keeping it in production, and hired a live-in farm manager to oversee all operations: natural beef, pork, lamb, and goat, and organic certified eggs.

The main focus of the farm is the egg operation, known as Piney River Organics. The farm maintains about 50,000 birds, and such a large scale clearly necessitates quite a bit of mechanized labor. The chickens lay their eggs on what is actually a small conveyor belt; this whisks away the eggs off to the washing and sorting room, where the eggs are cleaned and automatically separated according to size. It's actually a rather impressive and well-run operation, but it does bring up questions about the inevitable impact of such a large volume of one species in a fairly contained space, as well as the footprint of a process so reliant on machinery (and oil). Certainly, though, this organically certified system is far more desirable than the conventional alternative -- and while our economies of scale are currently preventing us from moving towards an even lower impact operation, we'll just have to take it one step at a time.


FREE Screening of Food, Inc at UVA next Tuesday!

UVa Dining and the Office of the Vice President & Student Affairs co-present a FREE screening of Food, Inc at UVA next Tuesday, November 17 at 7pm in the Newcomb Theater. This event is open to the general public.

From the website: "In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.... Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking—truths about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here."

Stay for a reception following the film, featuring local foods as well as displays from student groups already working towards alternatives to our current system, including the UVA Community Garden, Slow Food UVA, the Student Council Sustainability Committee, and Green Dining.

Watch the trailer.

See you next Tuesday!