Sustainable Dining is Booming on College Campuses

It’s a trend we can get behind

UC Davis is a huge advocate for environmental stewardship, and their Field-to-Table program successfully teaches students and community members the meaning of healthy living.

When you think of college dining hall fare, the first thoughts that come to mind are usually not pleasant ones. Cold pizza, boring salad bars, gloopy pasta, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the norm until recently. And while some colleges are still stuck in the 70s when it comes to their dining program, others are breaking new ground, and listening to their students’ needs and wants. And what do these students want? Not only a wider variety of options, but fresh, sustainable, and environmentally conscious fare whose origins they’re made aware of.

In our yearly survey of America’s Best Colleges for Food, which we released last month, there was a major trend that was readily apparent: the “greening” of the college dining program. Here are some examples of the movement towards environmentally conscious and sustainable dining on 18 college campuses:

  • Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, our highest ranked school on the list, emphasizes local purchasing at the on-campus farmers' markets and locally sustainable produce
  • Washington University in St. Louis’ program is completely committed to sustainability, turning their wasted oil into biofuel, composting food, and only sourcing their ingredients from local vendors.
  • Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.’s dining services take sustainability very seriously. Their project Farms and Fields provides local and organic meals, and their on-campus garden, filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, receives regular visits from the community.
  • Cornell University has implemented initiatives like supporting Local Food Growth, Take Back the Tap (choosing tap water over bottled), and responsible coffee sourcing to lessen a chemical footprint. Cornell also offers incentives to encourage students to lead sustainable lifestyles: if you buy a mug on campus, you can get a large coffee, tea, or hot chocolate for the price of a small one.
  • Through UMass Amherst’s "Real Food Challenge Campus Commitment," they’re shooting for their food to be at least 20 percent locally grown and fairly traded. There’s a Composting Program and Local Purchasing Program, and a farmers' market on campus that is entirely student-run.
  • Kennesaw State University’s Farm-to-Campus Program features three on-campus farms, multiple herb and vegetable gardens, and locally sourced meats and fishes.
  • Tufts University is a front-runner for ensuring its students know how to live and eat sustainably. Abiding by their well-known motto, Think Global but Buy Local, Tufts’ dining services creates an atmosphere where students are amped to embody the slogan. For example, their fall farmers' markets give students the opportunity to purchase fresh produce right on campus. Tufts serves 100 percent cage-free eggs and sustainable fish, like salmon and tilapia.
  • Yale University has very serious values when it comes to sustainability. Through STEP, their nutrition education program, students can take part in the Local 2 Yale and Erase the Waste programs.
  • Grinnell College in Grinell, Iowa believes in purchasing local produce to support nearby businesses, but also to ensure their students are being fed the best ingredients possible. Similarly, Grinnell received an outstanding grade in Food and Recycling.
  • "Dining is not solely about the food that is presented on the plate, but the total experience," Sean LaPean, University of California, Berkley’s dining director, told us. That’s why they’re entirely committed to the Farm-to-Table initiative, Chews to Reuse, and purchasing only environmentally friendly items. And if those aren’t powerful enough, read the Naked Bear, designed to educate and inform Cal students about food sustainability.
  • Students at University of California, Davis, can get involved in sustainable food choices through the unique Eco Food Corps Program. UC Davis is a huge advocate for environmental stewardship, and their Field-to-Table program successfully teaches students and community members the meaning of healthy living.
  • Through organic gardens, an educational farm, and a farm stand that provides seasonal produce, Stanford University stands out for its commitment to environmental conservation and stewardship.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Farm-to-Fork program assures that menu items are chosen on a seasonal basis based on available ingredients, as well as making sure all produce is locally sourced.
  • University of Pennsylvania’s dining service follows the farm-to-fork philosophy closely. Making sure all dishes are made with locally sourced and fresh ingredients, Penn takes its commitment to collegiate food and sustainable practices very seriously. As seen in their new program, Green2Go, students can help the university reduce their waste by using disposable to-go containers, in addition to Low Carbon Diet Day and the Eat Local Challenge.
  • Johns Hopkins University only purchases cage-free eggs, hormone-free milk, locally grown produce, and biodegradable products.
  • Reusable containers, partnerships with local farms, and the encouragement of student composting are just a few things tied into Brown University’s sustainability plan, as well as the very successful on-campus farmers' market on Thursdays every fall. 
  • Named the first Fair Trade College in the state of Florida, Rollins uses entirely biodegradable disposables (containers, cups, napkins, utensils), participates in the local food bank’s food recovery program, and annually helps the local Ronald McDonald House with meal preparations. In 2013, Rollins celebrated their first Farm-to-Table event, where local farmers came to the dining hall to give their produce to the chefs to whip up an amazing meal.
  • Hamilton College sources more than 20 percent of their ingredients from local farms, and cage-free eggs and humanely raised meats are the only ones they use. Through the newly introduced eco-friendly culinary program called Stem to Root, Hamilton avoids food waste by using parts of vegetables that are often discarded to make something else, like broccoli slaw out of the stems.