University of Minnesota students push for more sustainable, transparent food purchases from University Dining Services

Students have pushed for more sustainable food and purchasing transparency at the University of Minnesota for two years. Conversations have increased, but some still aren’t satisfied.

The student group U Students Like Good Food has increasingly worked with University Dining Services to bring more sustainable foods on campus in the last year, but the group is still hoping to implement the Real Food Challenge calculator.

The RFC calculator would track UDS food purchasing and make the information available to the public.

“There’s a huge interest in changing the food on our campus,” said Laura Dorle, president of the group and an environmental sciences, policy and management senior.

UDS has been working with the student group more frequently in the last year, and they’re hoping to move forward with the food calculator this summer, Dorle said.

UDS officials were unavailable for comment.

In 2012, UDS purchased about 176,000 pounds of local produce, 26,000 pounds of local meat and 1.2 million pounds of local dairy products, according to their website. However, the website did not give an exact definition for “local.”

Jason Hill, bioproducts and biosystems engineering assistant professor, said “local foods may be good in some ways and bad in others,” because it could be preferable to buy food from a sustainable company far away than from a large, local corporation.

The University’s Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science has maintained a “fairly regular order” with UDS, said Ryan Cox, assistant professor of meat science and faculty coordinator for the meat lab.

UDS hasn’t purchased quite as regularly from Cornercopia, the University’s student organic farm.

Last year, UDS purchased $50 worth of food from Cornercopia. The year before, it spent about $1,000. The student farm is trying to establish a better relationship with UDS, said Courtney Tchida, Cornercopia’s farm manager.

Cornercopia and UDS planted about 80 pounds of potatoes last month, which Tchida said will go to dining centers in the fall.

Executive Chef Thomas Boemer of Corner Table, a Minneapolis farm-to-food restaurant, said there are a lot of opportunities for the University to incorporate local foods.

“You have to take small steps to head in the right direction,” Boemer said.

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