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Dining Halls Move Toward Sustainability

Pomona College’s dining halls have implemented several changes to their food purchasing and trash disposal systems this year in an effort to make the College’s food services more sustainable. Samantha Meyer PO ’10, the college’s new Sustainable Food Coordinator, has been the driving force behind the changes.

“My main goal is to purchase better food, so that we’re buying more ethical and healthier food,” Meyer said. “I’m also trying to reduce usage of disposables and to increase recycling and composting [in the dining halls].”

Meyer, who graduated this spring, wrote her thesis about whether Pomona’s food was local, humane, and/or ecologically sound, and she made several recommendations for meeting higher standards in these areas. Her new job arose out of a desire within the college to implement some of these proposed changes.

Meyer said that one of her goals is to accommodate students with special dietary needs, like vegetarians, vegans, and students with gluten allergies.

“We already have the vegetarian section at Frary, but that’s going to expand,” Meyer said, adding that a section has been installed in Frank but is not yet fully operational.

A survey taken last year showed that vegetarians represent about 20 percent of Pomona’s student body. However, the vegetarian section is meant to appeal not only to them, but to the whole student population, Meyer said.

“It also provides a healthy option in the dining hall,” she said. “I try to get grain-based protein for the vegetarian section instead of just dairy-based, because it’s a heartier protein.”

Gluten-free options have increased as well. “We put out gluten-free cereal in the spring, but that was it,” Meyer said. “Now the gluten-free section [in Frary] has cereals, breads, cookies, and oatmeal.”

Meyer organized a gluten-free product tasting Wednesday to find out what additional products students would like to see.

The College has also replaced several items with organic options at a surprisingly small cost increase, Meyer said.

“We buy organic yogurt , soy milk, some salad dressings, and tofu,” she said. “These are all products that are relatively comparably priced. Some are even cheaper than the products we purchased before.”

Frank and Frary dining halls now also carry fair trade organic coffee as a result of the efforts of last year’s Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Food Committee and Meyer’s recommendations. The dining halls used to serve coffee that was certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which has a lower standard for sustainability, Meyer said.

Meyer has also tried to decrease waste and increase recycling and composting. She has revamped the system for composting pre-production food scraps that never reach a student’s plate, expanded the range of recyclable items from only cardboard boxes to all paper, glass, plastic, and metal products, and decreased the prevalence of disposable products in the dining halls.

“We used to have two trash cans and one recycling bin outside on the dock, and now we have two recycling bins and one trash can,” Meyer said.

Lately, Meyer has been working with Frank’s new Executive Chef, Justin McGruder, to bring more local food to the dining halls.

“We’re focusing on produce, because that’s something where freshness really matters, where you’re getting it right out of the ground,” she said. There are also plans to feature local farmers and Pomona food suppliers on the dining hall bulletin boards, and to bring these farmers to campus to speak.

Na’ama Schweitzer PO ’13, a member of Pomona Students for Environmental Activism and Responsibility (PEAR) and the ASPC Food Committee, said she was impressed by the changes in the dining halls.

“It’s really impressive what [Meyer has] been able to do, especially with the higher costs [of organic and sustainable food],” she said. “There are always ways to improve.”

Meyer said she encourages students to make suggestions. The comment board at Frary has been redesigned, and the one at Frank will soon be improved and relocated, she said. McGruder responds directly to the comment cards left at Frank, and he and Meyer were present at the first Food Focus Group in the Frank Blue Room last Tuesday. All food inquiries and requests can also be directed to the ASPC Food Committee.

This article originally appeared in the October 28, 2010, issue of The Student Life.