Campus dining halls test organic options

By Isaac Wolf

Students weary of rubbing their dining room apples in hopes of scraping off a waxy layer of pesticides may be relieved: the selection of fruits, vegetables, and meats in the University’s dining halls may soon grow to include organic and free-range options.

The effort to bring organic ingredients into campus dining locations, championed by the Environmental Concerns Organization (ECO), came a step closer to realization Wednesday night when the three campus dining halls featured an organic vegetable stir-fry.

Including organic tempeh, raddishes, green onions, and sesame oil, the entree was well received at the Pierce and B-J dining halls, but was not as popular at Bartlett, according to Joelle Davis, head of Aramark at the University. The reason the stir-fry at Bartlett did not draw as strong of a response, according to Davis, was that the relatively expensive price of the organic produce translated directly into expensive meals.

“Because students are paying à la carte, it wasn’t perceived the same at Bartlett,” Davis said. “The cost of the produce is really high.”

The issue of increased cost–perhaps the largest factor in keeping organic options from finding their way onto the trays of those in the dining halls–can be solved by finding organic suppliers at competitive rates, according to Craig Segall, a third-year in the College and head of the project for ECO. Though finding these vendors is more difficult than securing those of regular produce, it is possible, Segall said.

“The trick is finding suppliers who keep the [organic produce] wholesale,” he said. “Especially in wholesale, prices fluctuate so that organic is certainly in the deviation.”

In America, approximately 60 million pounds of pesticides are spread over produce annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Supporters of organic produce contend that pesticide-free fruits and vegetables are comparatively more healthful than non-organic crops, and also that the produce is better for the environment.

“You’re eating foods without poisons in them,” Segall said. “In thinking about organics, all you have to do is use common sense; once you educate the public about it, no one will want to eat poisons.”

Though ECO has moved to educate the University on a widespread scale–including tabling at each of the dining halls during dinner on Wednesday–it remains unclear how strong student support is for going organic.

Segall estimated between 100 to 150 supportive responses to the organic meal at the B-J dining hall alone. But administrators, who must determine the actual market for organic produce, said it was too early to draw conclusions.

“We’re still trying to figure it out,” said Sherry Gutman, associate dean of students for housing and dining.

Adam Bronson, a second-year in the College, expressed ambivalence toward the bowl of organic stir-fry he had just finished, his first organic meal.

“I support the whole idea of not using pesticides, though it isn’t that big of a deal to me,” he said. “If there was the option, I would eat organic occasionally.”

Gutman explained that the difficulty of bringing organic food to campus rests in the fact that it is still largely a novelty.

“When kiwis first came to the market they were a dollar each because they came from far away,” she said. “Now they’re 10 for a dollar. That’s the situation with organic products–they’re gaining steam but still not mainstream. Right now they’re just more [expensive].”

Like Gutman, champions of organic produce see the acquisition of organic foods on campus as a gradual process. To Wade Murphy, a fourth-year in the College and member of ECO, the campaign to bring organic options to campus comes in the context of events on both the national and citywide level: it follows the FDA’s move to label organic products officially, and also the increased attention the city has given to the environment, including the planting of shrubbery on the roof of city hall.

“Our campaign just sort of happened organically,” she said. “Our philosophy is that what’s good for the environment is good for the people.”