When the price is right for sustainability in the cafeteria

After a semester or two of living off SUB food, it can become easy to forget how impressive our dining services are in comparison to many other colleges and universities across the country.  Although we seldom come across anything like the cafeteria from Animal House, it can all seem rather daunting when you are running low on new ways to make use of rice, chicken and whatever can be found at the Full Fare station.

Even by modern standards, the Puget Sound community hardly has much to complain about, especially in regard to cost and sustainability. In fact, many of the accomplishments and successes can go unnoticed when we hurry through the SUB every day.

Dinning and Conference Services (DCS) works incredibly hard to make sure that students are getting the best price for the options available, while still striving to ensure our food services help the environment and local community.

Puget Sound students save an average of $214 on the medium meal plan over the average private university in the United States and $574 over other private universities in the Pacific Northwest. This is in addition to appearing on PETA’s most vegan-friendly campus for the past several years, coming in seventh place in 2011.

“Our hours of operation and extensive menu offerings are based upon students’ preferences, requests and dining needs,” said Assistant Director for Dining Services Melissa Flood. It may come as a surprise, though, to find that outside the dedicated members of the Sustainability Advisory Committee, Flood and DCS have not seen a much of a desire from students for sustainable, locally-grown food.

Nevertheless, DCS sees a need for constantly improving the options for the community.

“Our food… has improved tremendously over the past year or so in both quality and variety. Our commitment [is] to balancing cost effective sourcing with supporting local, sustainable products and companies whenever possible,” Flood said. “We expanded vegan station operating hours to weekends to better support full-week sustainable eating habits.” Additionally, they started recycling cooking oils, which will be used for biofuel.

There has always been the longstanding and unique policy of allowing students to take ceramic dishware as well as silverware out of Wheelock Student Center, which helps reduce the amount waste produced by disposable to-go containers. This program is currently being complemented by a pilot program to allow the use of reusable Tupperware containers instead of the paper and plastic variety currently available.

What is often forgotten by students is that DCS feels its main goal “is to provide significant menu variety and quality at fair prices to satisfy students who cannot regularly go off campus.”

Although it is easy for students to forget as they grow older, the SUB is a comforting constant in the lives of the freshmen to Puget Sound as they acclimate to eating in college.

What is even better news for new and incoming students is the plan to remodel areas of Wheelock Student Center, including the dining area. “Renovation will enable improved traffic flow, more interactive menu options, and provide much needed equipment upgrades to improve energy efficiency and waste reduction/management,” Flood added.