Cydnie Golson, Office for Sustainability Student Employee
With a schedule full of classes and list full of things to do, dining sustainably can easily slip even the most environmentally-conscious minds. Thankfully, here on Grounds and in Charlottesville, there are many easy ways to eat delicious food that is great for both you and our earth! Plus, it’s not too late to get involved in CIOs involved in sustainable food, like Greens to Grounds or Morven Kitchen Garden.
For those of you with a meal plan, you have it all set up! UVA Dining has gone to great lengths in the past years to make the dining halls and associated restaurants more sustainable. Reusable to-go boxes are available if you ask when swiping your ID, a switch from previous years’ “tag” policy. All you have to do to return the box is bring it with you the next time you go to the dining hall, place it on the conveyor belt with the rest of your dishes, and you’re done!
Brooke Kinsey, UVA’s new Green Dining Coordinator, further explains future plans for green dining as well as her own thoughts on the topic:
Q: What is UVA Dining doing this year to improve the sustainability of the dining system?
Brooke: This is a big question. We are doing a lot! Our key focus areas are responsible sourcing, waste management, and outreach.
In the area of responsible sourcing we have a goal to increase our sustainable purchases to 10% by the end of the school year. This means buying more local and third-party verified products. We have already added a new local, ice cream option from Homestead Creamery and hope to continue adding more local options. To communicate the partnerships we have locally we have also created a new Virginia Local map to show all of the local farms we work with. It is posted in Fresh Food Company, O’Hill, and the Pav.
Waste management is also a key area. Decreasing food waste as well as the associated materials with food consumption are key to improving our environmental impact. We have committed to work towards reducing single-use plastic use. We are starting with straws and have launched a campaign to Sip Smarter and Skip the Straw. We also are working on new signage near the dish returns to encourage consumers to eat more of the food on their plate so that less goes to waste.
The last area is outreach. We provide lots of resources for students to eat more sustainably and are working to increase awareness around our programs. We have launched a new UVA Green Dining Websiteand have a calendar full of events for this fall including Farmers Markets, Farm to Fork Meals, Veg Out Meals, Ocean to Fork, Sustainable Taste Cart and other pop up events.
Q: What do you envision as the greater goal for UVA Green Dining? Do you have anything specific in mind? Are there any long-term goals, and if so, what are they?
Brooke: I think the greater goal for UVA Green Dining is to increase the resources for students to engage in food sustainability and continue to grow a culture of food sustainability within UVA Dining and among UVA students and staff. We plan to continually increase our sustainable purchases by 2% every year and to continue to decrease our waste in food production as long term goals.
Q: How did you get involved with UVA Green Dining? With sustainable food in general?
Brooke: I was a student at UVA and majored in Global Studies- Environments and Sustainability. I have always been passionate about food systems and finding ways to improve the ability to source local and sustainable foods. I completed research on grounds around food systems and connected with my predecessor, Samantha Jameson, who hired me as an intern with Green Dining. That started my journey with UVA Dining and I was fortunate to be able to take over Samantha’s role when she chose to move on to attend grad school.
Q: What do you think is the most important aspect of a sustainable food/dining system?
Brooke: I think buy-in from both the staff and consumer is an important piece of sustainable dining. We can serve local produce and offer compostable and reusable options, but if our staff isn’t excited about promoting those features and students aren’t excited to use them, as you can guess it is harder to have impact with the program. Marketing our initiatives and doing outreach events is a big part of what we do to increase food sustainability in UVA Dining.
Q: What does green dining mean to you?
Brooke: Green dining is a way of eating sustainably. It includes choosing responsibly sourced food, eco-friendly materials and properly sorting waste to reduce what goes to the landfill. We do our best to offer opportunities to participate in all of these areas through our sustainability program.
Q: If you could ask one thing of the students at UVA on the topic of sustainability, what would it be?
Brooke: I would ask what they think UVA is missing to help them be more sustainable. Specifically ideas they have on how to improve the culture of green dining on grounds and get more students engaged.
Q: For fun, what is your favorite recipe, and why?
Brooke: My favorite recipe is for date balls! They are super easy and can be made numerous ways. The basic ingredients are dates, nuts/seeds, coconut oil processed in a food processor.
Additional sustainable opportunities can be found for anyone on Grounds. Using reusable utensils and to-go cups/mugs can greatly reduce how much waste is generated by all of the cups of joe that keep UVA’s student body running. Having a reusable cup will allow you to get free hot water for your tea at many coffee shops on Grounds (like Greenberry’s in Clark Hall), a plus as the weather gets colder and sore throats become unavoidable.
For those of you without a meal plan, buying sustainable food can be a whole lot easier than it seems. Many places on the Corner feature sustainable options. The Juice Laundry now provides all compostable materials for their smoothies and bowls, Boylan Heights serves a well-recommended veggie burger, and Fig Bistro offers organic food with plentiful options for vegans and vegetarians. Otherwise, buying local and organically farmed goods can greatly lessen the amount of fossil fuels used to make the food as well as the potentially harmful effects on the land, such as overuse of pesticides and degradation of overall soil quality, that come with the common industrial agriculture.
What’s even better is that shopping locally can be really fun! The Charlottesville City Farmers Market right off of the Downtown Mall occurs every Saturday and is a great place to not only buy sustainably, but also to experience the local Charlottesville culture! There’s music, fresh produce, and free samples. What more could you ask for? Buy some newly-baked bread, local eggs, or crisp greens to experience true freshness, or get a hand-blown glass straw to finally say goodbye to plastic! You might even end up with some new plants to decorate your dorm, apartment, or house.
Overall, UVA is filled with the potential for green eating. A little bit of exploration can reveal so many possibilities if you only look. If you are interested in finding out even more about general sustainability on Grounds, check out the rest of the UVA Sustainability website!