Sustainable Dining Hall By Denning Whether is the local apples and apple cider, Organic beans, pasta or rice, Proctor’s dining hall is making strides to support the healthy continuation of organic and local food in its daily routine. It has become common knowledge in our community and society that the best way for us to eat is organically and locally. Not only for our bodies but for the environment and for the progress of the food industry, to being to turn our system around toward localized and sustainable programs. Despite this reality, there are significant reasons why our dining hall doesn’t constantly supply us with this kind of food. It is less an act of ignorance, but of difficulty, to feed Proctor sustainably. Our dining hall has emotion with Edna in the morning and warm waffles and a smiling, Nate during the day with ‘hellos’ and ‘how are ya’s’, Art plodding around toward his next task, in the way he does, amongst other faces, to whom we are dependent. But beyond the interactions we have with our dining hall ! friends, we have to wonder, with the school mission of ‘Increasing organic,1 local, and healthful food choices each year.’ we need to understand why we don’t see
more organic food offerings. The importance of eating conscientiously is huge. Food is a consistent expense, which is not about to disappear. So where any individual chooses to spend their money is vital especially during this food industry dilemma. However the biggest problem facing an institution like Proctor is that we already rely on cheap, consistent food, so how could we rearrange our food system to accommodate a more sustainable, ‘eco’ palate. Firstly we must understand what we are seeing on the label, for example, this new trend of ‘organic’ food, how can we be sure that this is what is best for us? Nate Mazur, who works in the Proctor kitchens questioned the concept of organically labeled food, concept. “I don’t think, and I could be wrong because I don’t know the science behind it, but I don’t think anything is truly organic. I mean you have compost, you use organic compost but all that stuff has to come from stuff that’s already around that has chemicals in it and you can’t know that it will leech out of the soil 100%.” because we have already infiltrated our earth with so many problematic chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants (POP’)s, that it is very hard to see our organic methods as foolproof because so many invisible substances are already cycling around in our ‘natural’ system. Considering this, is organic always the best option for our buck? Yes, we can reliably contest that organic is not adding any more pesticides and herbicides into our world. But, can you put a price on the carbon footprint we are creating in choosing the organic option over the non-organic local? Nate describes this dilemma as one of the main issues in setting up Proctor organically. “The difficulty in getting these things is just that when you guys are here, it’s not really the time of year to get local produce and I’m not sure if there’s even local rice or anything like that and that’s generally what we get in the winter months. And to ship stuff in that’s organic is expensive for one and it’s still not cutting down on the carbon footprint.” The expense is definitely an issue, an independent boarding school seems like it should have money spilling out of their shoes, but really it just has overtired feet. Our budget for food is low because it is created on the expectations that food can be, on mass, cheaper than organic and local standards. With this model, through no one’s fault, we have molded to the food choices that are profiting the current food industry industry. Unfortunately no one said these were the best. But let’s focus in on this little town of Andover for a while, we are in New Hampshire, and despite the shorter growing season, NH plays its part in farming with large pockets of rural land and there is great dairy, ! chicken eggs, and apples. But in a state like this there isn’t often the
USDA Certified Organic opportunity, though it is a possibility, it is a huge challenge because the farms are small and don’t have the money to acquire organic certification, regardless of whether they practice traditional organic methods, as many of them do, or not. So although the label may not say organic, often the local food in our area may be exactly what we are looking for. So we know what the best option is, to amble over to the farmers in our neck of the woods and snatch up some of the good stuff. But as Alan McIntyre, the Environmental Coordinator, explains, this is not the easiest thing to achieve, ‘It is very challenging to find local farmers that can provide enough food (more than one meal for 200+ people) consistently. Our seasons are short and demand is high, making local and organic foods expensive. The budget and cooperative efforts to create business relationships with local and organic food providers are the primary limiting factors in expanding Sustainable Mondays beyond one single meal.’ Not counting cost, what are the easiest foods to acquire? Nate Mazur could tell me it was “Probably organic, just because everybody has organic, I think, most places that you purchase food from have organic stuff now because that is what the thing is, that is what’s chic!” Nate laughs heartily recognizing his current trend. “Art got some produce from a local farm a year or two back now,” remembers Nate-, “and what they gave us was hardly enough to make one item on the menu, but well, that’s all they had, I mean it’s just difficult for a small farm” They only have so much space to grow, for example broccoli, and at this school a lot of people love broccoli, you put it out there and it disappears.” Proctor has made a substantial difference to it’s eating habits, from introducing local apples and apple cider, to its reliably organic wheat pasta, beans and rice. The school can thank Proctor Environmental Action, a student run club on campus,who work to reduce Proctor’s environmental impact by meeting on Monday nights to address sustainability of our school. One of the successful PEA initiatives has been sustainable Monday, where the dinner meal makes a huge effort to be humanely raised and slaughtered, wild caught, organic or occasionally locally produced. Alan McIntyre who assists the PEA students in spearheading Sustainable Mondays, has confidence that ‘Sustainable Mondays is a great first step in our school's collective efforts to offer healthy, and environmentally friendly food choices in a harsh New England food shed.’ But is not flawless because there is always more to do. Which is why he goes on to say, ‘The school has an environmental mission goal to "Increasing organic, local, and healthful food! choices each year.’ Which means ‘any increase in that effort will be
directly dependent on those limiting factors and the community's collective interest and feedback.’ Because we have such a responsive kitchen crew our feedback is as important as ever. Just as importantly, the students notice and appreciate the success of the sustainable Monday program for Jeremy Meehan a four year senior and Sunapee resident, ‘Getting sustainable and local food is an important piece to life, because it does not only heighten your sense of well being but it also improves community.’ So having the meal on Monday specifically for this purpose is important to him. Because of the improvement in food options Zoli Clarke says that, ‘[Sustainable] Monday is his favorite Monday.’ So the goal is to just keep making good decisions and let your mind pause for a moment when you pick out your meal, because although the dining hall can’t be restocked overnight with ideal food, we can at least have people, who are active examples for positive feedback to the sustainably monday movement, out there. What can students do? take the time to pay attention to the labels over the dishes, choose the organic or local option, talk about your food or maybe even join PEA! And most importantly express your gratitude to the people that fill your belly.