What does it mean to incorporate principles of sustainability into campus dining services? Because the possibilities are so far ranging, we chose to adopt a common set of sustainability metrics developed specifically for higher education. In its version 1.2, the Sustainability Tracking Assessment Rating System (STARS) requires tracking food and beverages that meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Grown and processed within 250 miles of the institution
- Third-party certified (USDA Certified Organic, Marine Stewardship Council Blue Ecolabel, Food Alliance, Fair Trade, Certified Humane Raised and Handled)
Leading up to the development of our campus sustainability goals, WFU Dining Services (operated by ARAMARK) reported that 4% of what they spent on food served to the Wake Forest community met the STARS v1.2 criteria for sustainability.
In a 2012 follow up STARS assessment, that percentage increased to 10.78.
For the fall of 2012, monthly purchases averaged 14% (11.25% came from with 250 miles; 2% was certified fair trade; .5 %was USDA certified organic; and less than 1% was certified by the marine stewardship council).
Progress and Goals
Based on the rate of increase of “sustainable” purchases for dining from 2011 to 2012, WFU Dining Services agreed to set a goal of an average 20% “sustainable” purchases by 2015. Within that 20%, we set sub-goals of at least 10% grown and raised in North Carolina and 5% USDA certified organic.
By the fall of 2013, WFU Dining Services reported having reached an average 16% “sustainable” purchases, with 11% coming from North Carolina and 5% certified by the USDA as organic.
According to Kate Ruley, WFU Dining’s Nutrition Director, “Serving safe, nutritious and quality food is a top priority in our effort to deliver great experiences for our customers at Wake Forest University. As we work towards our commitment of 20% sustainable purchases, we must ensure that all farmers, vendors and suppliers adhere to a set of strict safety measures. This presents challenges from time to time. However, our regional supply chain team works with farmers, distributors and vendors on these safety measures as well as availability and pricing so that such sustainable options can become standard solutions.”
Beyond the 2015 goals, WFU Dining Services is preparing to evaluate its purchases against the recently-released STARS 2.0 standards. These exclude “products from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), products that have minimal nutritional value (e.g. soda, chewing gum, candies made predominantly from sweeteners), and products from producers that have been convicted of one or more labor law violations within the previous three years.” Based on current suppliers, these new exemptions would substantially reduce the percentage of purchases that would meet the criteria for “sustainable” purchases in WFU Dining.
As was reported last week in the NYTimes, the demand for humanely raised animal proteins is on the rise – on campuses, in restaurants, and with individual customers. US pork producers are trying to develop production models to meet the growing demand.
The inclusion of more humanely raised animals in its supply chain could help WFU Dining Services maximize their commitment to food safety. According to the Times article, “ the number of cases of trichinosis in the United States has plummeted as the number of pastured pigs has increased…according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 10 cases of trichinosis attributed to pork products from 2002 to 2007, seven were linked to commercially raised pigs.”
Other recent food safety concerns, like the Seattle Times report of cockroach infestations at one Foster Farms plant in California, follow last fall’s salmonella outbreak on the West coast. With the preponderance of producers relying on low prices to drive demand for their products, it is difficult to factor animal welfare and employee wellbeing into their production models.
WFU Dining Services works to balance customer preferences, campus sustainability goals, pricing that keeps Wake Forest’s meal plan affordable, and food safety. It’s a difficult balancing act that relies on careful attention to measuring the costs and benefits of every purchasing decision.
By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability