Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Dining Halls, Past, present, future and curating student sustainability.

**This blog is part of a sustainability series written by student members of the BSOS Sustainability Task Force. To find out more about the task force, click here.**

Written by: Ben Shapiro

 The UMD Dining halls have a rich history over the years of feeding students and faculty, often being at the core of the social experience of the university. The dining halls have a duty to provide a wide array of healthy and delicious food options that young students can feel happy to eat.
Back in in the 70s the South dining hall erupted into a riot/ epic food fight, where students were fed up with the quality of the food and decided to take aggressive action. South dining hall was ground zero for a generation of outspoken young adults. In an interview with Ron Schwartz for UMD’s Unwind Magazine, he said ”We completely destroyed the cafeteria within the blink of an eye, and then we all cleared out,” and that “They never got the pudding off the ceiling!”
Back in 2011, 251 North dining hall opened making it third on campus, providing an all you care to eat experience for north campus diners. This was the central grounding place for the new expansion of Denton quad and the new Oakland Hall. Now both South and north campus dining halls will follow suit, foregoing the ala carte style to a pay to enter method. The hope is that students will opt to dine in fostering more community and student interaction. This will help to eliminate the need for carry-out containers and pursue the continuing goal of reducing waste. Green Dining Coordinator has this to say about this upcoming policy shift.
“We are very proud of the Green Dining Program and all we've been able to accomplish, with the help of UMD's students, over the past 4 years. Since we launched our Sustainable Food Commitment in 2012, we have met our goal of 20% sustainable food sourcing - ahead of schedule! We are also thrilled about the support and engagement across campus for programs such as Terp Farm, the Farmers Market at Maryland, and the Campus Pantry. We are looking forward to the launch of the Anytime Dining Program in the dining halls in the Fall 2016, which will eliminate 6.3 million disposable items from the waste stream each year. Another great step for sustainability in Dining Services. “-Allison Gail Lilly 2016
The most compelling argument for the new system is how it will, as a result of eliminating the carryout option, dramatically reduce the amount of waste created by the dining halls. Currently we have two reusable containers the Ozzi box and the Freefill cup, both have gained much success at time. However the Ozzi Box was not appealing enough for the majority of students and come this fall, will be eliminated as an option.  In fall 2013, students used between 3,000 and 3,600 OZZI reusable containers a week — a number that’s grown every semester since the box’s debut in fall 2011, when Dining Services officials ordered 1,000 containers. But that barely puts a dent in the roughly 1 million disposable white containers students use every year, said Allison Lilly, Dining Services sustainability and wellness coordinator.
The Future of Green dining extends beyond the use of OZZI boxes, however. Colleges around the country have provided models for how UMD could use this reorganization of its dining plans to also introduce students to healthier food options. UMD’s own Green Dining website expands the definition to include sustainable sources of food (like Terp Farm and the “Sustainable Seafood” program) and sustainable disposal of food (like composting). However, one way we could improve our green dining is through an increase in locally grown food. For example, The University of Massachusetts Amherst might offer a blueprint for that. They have instituted processes such as freezing individual pieces of produce, butchering meat from a local farmer on-campus, and using less-common species of fish, undoubtedly to avoid overharvesting. Steps taken by other colleges include online services for ordering local food (at Denison College in Ohio), the conversion of frying oil into biodiesel, and the careful tracking of prepackaged food to ensure it is purchased (both by Washington University in St. Louis).
Efforts set forth by Green Dining show two things: first, that green dining is not just about the packaging, and second, that even small actions can have a large impact on sustainability in the food supply chain. The dining experience weather good or bad at UMD wields great power in curating the student experience.
As a UMD student, dining options are quite limited, there are three major options and each one has its own drawback : bring your own food, going into dining halls and eating at different cafes.
Bringing your own food is probably the most economic efficient choice. However students living on campus do not have access to grocery store within walking distance. Eating at dining halls is not ideal either. The North Campus diner is too far away from most of classrooms so people usually do not walk back to there for lunch. This choice makes the south diner always packs with people around lunch time even dinner time. People dining here stare at their laptop screens or scroll through their phones. Not exactly an ideal dining experience. Then, students are only left with shops at Stamp and other cafes scattered in different academic buildings. Stamp is usually crowded around lunch time as well, but at least the food there is reasonably priced. In small cafes, students can only get overpriced sandwiches and pastas.
This is the reality of dining on campus. Hopefully the dining system is changing for the better.
Sincerely yours
Hungry Terp