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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Tufts Dining discusses food and sustainability in virtual webinar series

Students enter and leave Dewick MacPhie Dining Center for lunch on Feb. 1.

The Office of Sustainability continued its "Path to Carbon Neutrality" webinar series with a virtual panel on Jan. 25. The webinar featured commentary and perspectives from Patti Klos, director of dining and business services, and Kelly Shaw, nutrition marketing specialist. 

The panelists discussed how their team works to source food locally, purchase fair trade and organic ingredients, create plant-based menus and reduce food waste at Tufts. 

"In more typical times, about two million meals are served annually, which means that we have a big footprint, and we know it," Klos said. "This year, we're projecting to spend over $7 million on food. That doesn't include disposables and cleaning products."

During the webinar, Klos reviewed Tufts Dining's achievements in sustainability up to this point, explaining that she joined forces with the Office of Sustainability in the early 1990s to begin thinking about the environmental impact of dining services. Since then, various members of the Tufts community have contributed their expertise to the issues of food waste reduction and carbon neutrality in dining.

"It was two [urban and environmental policy and planning] graduate students that actually helped us find a farmer in Tewksbury, which was our first iteration of composting," Klos said. "And when that fell through, they located a waste hauler ... that became the first iteration of composting that goes on today." 

In the mid-2000s, a group of Tufts students conducted a research project on the potential impact of trayless dining that caught Klos' attention and convinced her to eliminate trays from the dining halls.

"Trayless dining got introduced in the mid-2000s," Klos said. "Our campus wasn't ready until a group of students did some wonderful research. ... I hired a couple of them to conduct a pilot for us that turned into the trayless initiative that we have today."

Tufts is committed to reducing landfill waste by 3% annually. To help achieve this goal, the university introduced reusable containers, bottles and silverware that students can use in the dining halls. 

"The green container ... is a very sturdy three-compartment container that is washable," Klos said of the reusable takeout container students use when taking food to go from the dining halls. "If taken care of properly, you can get about 280-300 uses [from it]."

An important aspect of waste reduction in food service is energy and water efficiency. Tufts regulates its energy and water usage by donating food, replacing equipment like dish machines in order to save water and radiate less heat and cooking from scratch — which gives the university greater control over the ingredients it uses.

On the consumer side of sustainability, Shaw explained that the number of students at Tufts interested in vegan or vegetarian dishes is on the rise, and the university is responding to this increased demand. 

In addition to implementing Meatless Mondays, Tufts is involved with Menus of Change, an organization providing chefs with recipe guidance that has overlapping health and sustainability impacts. The university has also participated in the Collective Impact Report, where it determined that protein is the most significant area of change for improving menus.

"MCURC, which is the name of the [research] collaborative, has a goal to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030," Shaw said. "It's not going to be a smooth curve, but it is something that we are looking at and will continue to monitor." 

After Klos and Shaw's presentations, Office of Sustainability Director Tina Woolston moderated a Q&A session. Woolston asked the panelists how the pandemic has impacted dining sustainability programs.

"[We wanted] to work with some of the smaller local businesses [but] their ability to produce and the unpredictability where shortages occur [were impacted by the pandemic]. … It's been very uneven, unpredictable," Klos said.

Woolston asked about the dining staff's involvement in sustainability practices. 

"We have gatherings of the whole team at the start of the semester," Klos said. "We try to make sure that we brief them on what our objectives are. ... Sometimes these updates happen in team huddles ... through signage. ... It has to take several forms to keep people apprised."

Woolston also relayed an audience member's question about Tufts' role in helping achieve the New England Food Vision — an effort to source 50% of the region's food locally by 2060.

"It's really ambitious," Klos said. "I think to get there requires a lot of people to be open to thinking differently ... and yet that doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep striving."

Woolston and Klos urged students to support Tufts Dining's sustainability efforts.

"Bring us your ideas," Klos said. "There are many things that we hadn't thought of, or maybe we've thought of but didn't know that anybody else was interested.”