Monday, October 18, 2010

More Sustainable Foods at Mason

Last Thursday the Environmental Action Group’s Sustainable Foods Working Group met with Mason Dining Services senior administration to discuss the use of more local, sustainable foods in Mason dining facilities. The group met with Sodexo Resident District Manager Denise Ammaccapane, Executive Campus Chef Peter Schoebel, and Mason Dining’s Dietian Lois Durant. The student lead group consisted of Environmental Action Group members Darius Salimi and Jason Von Kundra, GMU Organic Garden Association member Nya Jackson, and Sustainability Projects Specialist Danielle Wyman. The delegation claimed to be representing over three hundred and fifty members of the Environmental Action Group.

The largest concern of the student lead delegation was the lack of local, organic produce in Mason’s dining services. Executive Campus Chef Peter Schoebel responded to student concerns by stating that he does use local produce, when available, but “we [the students] just don’t know it”. Keany Produce Company, Mason’s produce provider, provides local fruits and vegetables by default when they are available. Due to Schoebel’s time limitations he stated that “I don’t have the time to go through the produce order list and create labels for which food is local”. The Sustainable Food Working Group will be working with two service learners, appointed to work with Dining Services, to assist with creating local food labels to be prominently displayed at Mason Dining facilities to make the Mason community aware of which foods and ingredients are being sourced locally. Denise Ammaccapane, Sodexo Resident District Manager, has also volunteered her marketing student interns, to help with designing labels for locally sourced produce.

Signs for locally sourced produce wasn’t the only labeling issue discussed at the meeting. Environmental Action Group Co-chair, Jason Von Kundra, who is a vegan, expressed his discontent with the prominent labeling of vegan dishes at Southside. Currently, there is a binder with the list of ingredients that are present in dishes but Von Kundra doesn’t think this current system of labeling is convenient. “The list of ingredients should be directly in front of the dishes they correspond to not over in a corner somewhere” said Von Kundra. The Sustainable Foods Working Group also wasn’t satisfied with the current symbols used to identify gluten free dishes, and dishes containing soy, dairy, peanuts, and other ingredients students might possibly be allergic to. The student group will be working with Mason Dining’s Dietian Lois Durant, who is directly employed by Sodexo, to improve the allergy symbols used. Schoebel also claims to be working with Mason’s IT department to fix the labeling glitches.

The conversion of George’s to a vegetarian restaurant was also discussed during the meeting. Ammacaccapane said converting George’s to a vegetarian restaurant had been discussed in the past but there wasn’t enough support for the restaurant. Salimi expressed the need for a vegetarian restaurant on campus. “It’s crazy that I pay $9 to get into Southside to eat without a meal plan and only have one or two vegetarian options available to me. I want the same number of food options as non vegetarians” said Salimi. Ammacaccapane, Schobel, and Durant seemed open to the idea but asked for more information from the student group including where they would like to have a vegetarian restaurant on campus, what the menu and staffing would look like, and what students are willing to pay for a meal. Schoebel volunteered to do a cost analysis of a vegetarian restaurant to see if it is feasible.

Lastly the group discussed the use of garden produce in Southside. Last month the Organic Garden Association donated over 10 pounds of basil to Southside for them to use for their menu that day. The basil wasn’t used in the menu that day. Schobel stated that if the produce from the garden is to be used in Southside he needs advance notice of produce available from the garden that he can use in the next week or two. He also suggested that the Organic Garden Association consider using the garden produce in other dining facilities that have more flexibility in their menus since they are dealing with a lesser volume of customers.

The group will be meeting again in two weeks to discuss their progress and further areas where they can work together. Some members of the Sustainable Foods Working Group seemed optimistic after their meeting. Danielle Wyman, Office of Sustainability Projects Specialist, expressed her excitement after the meeting. “I feel very excited and encouraged that Sodexo seems ready to really move forward with what we all are asking for!” Others have chosen to wait until after some results have been seen to call the meeting a success. Von Kundra of the EAG had this to add. “At the 2010 Longwood Sustainability Conference I was impressed with all the sustainable initiatives Aramark, one of Sodexo’s biggest competitors, is doing at Longwood University. I was even more impressed when I learned that Longwood does not have any environmental group. At GMU, our environmental group has presented the issue and the ball is the hands of Mason Dining and Sodexo to make changes here on campus. I can’t consider [the meeting] a success until we see some changes made.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Sustainable Foods Campaign please contact the Environmental Action Group at