Food Systems Working Group report sets sights on sustainable future

Melissa Gutierrez Gonzalez/Occidental Weekly

Occidental’s Food Systems Working Group (FSWG) published a food policy document Oct. 16 which outlines the current state of and future plans for sustainable food practices within campus food systems, such as the Marketplace and the Tiger Cooler. The document is the culmination of efforts from Campus Dining, the Food Studies Cluster, Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) and student organizations, which together make up the FSWG. The document establishes a holistic food policy for the college, outlining “Oxy’s Own” procurement standards to support local, fair trade and sustainable vendors.

FSWG’s food policy document stems from Occidental’s involvement in the nationwide Real Food Challenge — a commitment among colleges to dedicate at least 20 percent of their food budget to sustainable sources by 2020. According to the document, Occidental has pledged to exceed this commitment by dedicating 30 percent of its food budget to sustainable sources by 2020.

According to Amy Andrews Muñoz, associate vice president for hospitality services, the community can submit suggestions online during the document’s two-month comment period before its finalization. Muñoz said that the comment period will allow the campus community to have a hand in shaping the college’s policy goals.

“When you are involving the whole community in a policy commitment, you want to have as much input from that community as possible,” Muñoz said.

Melissa Gutierrez Gonzalez

Zoë Alles (junior), FSWG intern and co-chair, hopes that the community will take an interest in the document because it relates to the core values of Occidental’s mission.

“If we do want to be an institution that values equity, justice and sustainability, then this document is a great way to state how we will do so,” Alles said.

The document states that a food meets “Oxy’s Own” procurement standards if its supplier is a local, community-based vendor based within 250 miles, maintains a valued workforce where workers receive a fair wage and humane treatment, engages in fair trade, uses ecologically sound processes that limit environmental degradation and practices humane animal treatment.

According to Alles, these procurement standards are updated to be in accordance with national food standards such as the “Real Food Guide 2.0” published in October 2016 by the Real Food Challenge. Alles said that having these standards recorded and reviewed by the community are critical to ensuring whether sustainability goals are met.

The document also audits the sustainability of current Campus Dining facilities. According to the document, the Marketplace is the largest dining operation on campus, accounting for nearly 65 percent of Campus Dining dollars spent. The document notes that the Marketplace is at the forefront of the college’s efforts in sustainability due to its size and resources.

According to Sammy Herdman, Campus Dining lead intern for sustainability research and implementation, the Marketplace will be installing a new dishwashing system to replace its current 24-year-old system. The new system is projected to save 456,515.14 gallons of water per year.

“The new dish machine won’t break down like our current one does occasionally. Right now, if the machine breaks, we have to switch to paper plates and utensils. If we go with the new machine then we can avoid that waste of plates and utensils,” Herdman said via email.

According to the document, the Cooler — which the college last remodeled in 1997 — accounts for 25 percent of Campus Dining expenditure. According to Robert Starec, associate director of Campus Dining, storage and infrastructural challenges continue to limit the Cooler’s sustainable food offerings. Alles and Muñoz both said that the Cooler is the food system most in need of improvement to reach the college’s Real Food Challenge goal.

Melissa Gutierrez Gonzalez

“We have a severe lack of storage space, both cold storage space and dry storage space. Due to the lack of space, we are unable to do a lot of our own prep like the Marketplace, so a lot of our products have to come to us already prepped,” Starec said.

Starec said that the Cooler’s compost pilot program, as well as its push to use recyclable and compostable packaging, are positive steps, but any significant progress would require infrastructure changes.

“The long-term goal would be a major remodel of the facility. To actually make a big push to have more sustainable practices on the kitchen side, we need the prep space and we need the storage space to do so,” Starec said.

According to Muñoz, the best practice for Campus Dining facilities is to refurbish or remodel every 10 years. Muñoz said that the remodel of the Tiger Cooler is something that should be dealt with as soon as possible.

“We are hoping that this is something that we can bring to fruition because it’s just not something that we can sit on for five to 10 more years,” Muñoz said.