Trends in Green (Sustainable Innovations On Campus)

BU Dining Reaches a Big Goal

Grass-fed beef? Check. Cage-free eggs? You got it. Certified Humane chicken? Boston University’s (BU) dining locations offer that, too.

BU Dining Services recently released its 2015 Sustainability Report, which details its progress over the past year in offering more sustainable food options and reducing its carbon footprint.

The highlight of the report? Dining Services’ goal, set just last year, of procuring 20 percent of its food from sustainable sources by 2018 has already been achieved — three years ahead of schedule.

Ongoing Efforts

Each year, the Dining Services sustainability program files reports with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Over the past year, 22 percent of the university’s food and beverage purchases met AASHE’s Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) criteria, says Dining Services Sustainability Coordinator Sabrina Pashtan. In order to meet those criteria, “food products must come from within a 250-mile radius. And if they’re not from a local, independently owned farm or company, then they must be third-party-certified environmentally sound, fair trade, or humane,” Pashtan says.

Some of the practices that helped BU reach its 20 percent sustainable food goal early — like converting to using cage-free eggs — were already in place, but many changes were implemented in just the past year, largely in response to feedback from last fall’s Dining Services student survey. More than 3,000 students completed the survey, and 90.3 percent said that sustainability is important to them, while 30 said percent that “humanely raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and poultry are most meaningful” to them.

“We were able to convert several more proteins in our residential dining program to more sustainable options, and that had a huge impact,” says Pashtan. For example, all ground beef, hamburgers and hot dogs served in dining halls now come from 100 percent grass-fed cows from the Maine Family Farms Meat Company. That accounts for a whopping 45,000 pounds of beef and 118,000 hamburgers a year, according to the report.

Moreover, most of the turkey served on campus now comes from American Humane Certified farms — “Butterball recently became American Humane Certified,” says Pashtan. And the whole rotisserie chickens used on campus (more than 15,000 per year), from Pennsylvania’s Murray’s Farms, are also American Humane Certified.

BU Dining Services’ partnership with local seafood supplier Red’s Best in late 2014 also helped make the 20 percent sustainability goal possible ahead of schedule. Since the partnership started, Pashtan has organized two “Meet Your Local Fishermen” nights, designed to let students know how their fish got to their plates. “Introducing students to where their food is coming from is so important,” she says.

The 2015 Sustainability Report includes an introduction to many of the local farms and companies BU works with — among them Ocean Spray Orchards in Bridgewater, MA; Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, MA; Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon, MA; and Vermont Soy in Hardwick, VT.

Dining Services has taken even more steps to introduce the BU community to its local food providers over the past few years, organizing educational field trips (including an annual tour of the A.D. Makepeace cranberry bogs in Wareham, MA) and cooking demonstrations, hosting a weekly farmers market, and sponsoring a farm share program with Ward’s Berry Farm, giving students, faculty, staff and the community the opportunity to purchase a box of fresh-picked local fruits and vegetables every week through the summer and into the fall, with pickup on campus.

Pashtan, who developed a passion for sustainable dining while attending cooking school in Spain, writes a blog featuring recipes that use ingredients available through the weekly farm share. “In Spain,” she says, “seasonality is a big thing. People there live closer to their food sources and are tied to seasonality.” That philosophy continues to inform Dining Services’ sustainability program as it looks to make further progress.

Future Goals

Two new Dining Services goals are replacing conventional pork with 100 percent gestation crate-free and Humane Certified pork by 2017 and ensuring that 100 percent of its seafood is sustainable by 2018.

In addition to these purchasing reforms, all BU dining halls are now Green Restaurant Association-certified, and to further promote sustainable food choices, Dining Services has launched a special, largely vegetarian Wholesome Roots menu, with local, organic and sustainable ingredients. The program is available at different dining halls during the week.

All of these initiatives, taken together, are designed, Pashtan says, to ensure that students can eat “food that has a positive impact on themselves and on the environment.”

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Mara Sassoon is an editorial assistant for BU Today and Bostonia Magazine at Boston University's Office of Marketing and Communications She can be reached at [email protected]. This article is used with permission and first appeared in BU Today (