Sustainable Food for UNM Students

Eating on campus can be a sustainable adventure that educates and creates healthy habits that last a lifetime. Colleges all over the US are working towards connecting students to their local foodshed and to fresh food, by buying locally and lowering their waste.

At first glance, it may not look like UNM as an institution is thinking a lot about sustainable food – but that is not the case. There is a long way to go to reach a visibly and wholly sustainable experience on campus but creating that will start with an acknowledgement of our current accomplishments.

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Sustainability written in metal above the plate receptacle in La Posada. Photo by author.

Chartwells, the parent company to UNM Food, has numerous sustainability initiatives . These initiatives include “providing fair trade options” and “encouraging local spending.” Head Chef Hassan Abassary and Director of Operations Karen Lombardi are both devoted to sustainability and work toward Chartwells’ stated objectives.

In a presentation to my sustainability class, Chef Hassan proudly listed – off the top of his head – some of the of current successes in the La Posada dining hall:

  • Pinto beans served often at the “Red or Green?” station are grown in the Four Corners region and sourced through La Montanita Co-Op Distribution Center;
  • Tamales, enchiladas, tortillas, and sopapillas are purchased locally from Bueno Foods;
  • The pork served is hormone free and bought from Kyzer farm, a New Mexican family farm;
  • Meat is not the focal point of each meal station;
  • La Posada makes deals with local farmers to buy as much of their lowest cost misshapen produce as possible to avoid waste in the fields;
  • La Posada composts kitchen scraps and food waste through Soilutions.

Head Chef Hassan clearly loves to cook. At a UNM Food student associate reception he personally cooked each person’s dinner, smiling and describing the diverse ways to combine the available ingredients. With such a personality in the kitchen, it is no wonder that Chartwells does a good job of serving a range of vegetables in new and fun ways in the dining hall. I am surprised by big, juicy Portobello mushrooms, a lime and feta lentil dish, and the variety of  kale-based dishes that are not only healthy, but delicious. These dishes make sustainable diet choices easy by putting local and fresh food front and center in delicious plant-based meal options.

Other initiatives at La Posada are advertised on the walls in large framed pictures captioned “cage-free eggs” and “rBGH free dairy.” As these practices become the norm for food service providers, UNM Food can make a bigger difference if it pursues other methods of increasing sustainability.

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Signage for sustainable commitments, a step in the right direction. Photo by author.

Some failures in perception come mainly from a lack of upkeeping the advertising and more signage near food. And although “sustainability” is in big metal letters above the dishwashing station, the wall with statistics about accomplishments has not been updated since August 2017. Being sustainable is one thing, but letting people know, and making people think more critically about it, is an even better option.

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Things are looking promising for the sustainability of eating on campus for UNM students. Karen praises Chef Hassan for his dedication to taking measurements of all the diverted food waste through donations, composting, and suggested portion sizes. She believes that with some recent staff additions, it is now likely that the statistics on the wall will be updated and Hassan will have more time to develop new sustainable solutions in the dining hall.

While the management staff of La Posada feel that more edible plants in and around La Posada would be great; indoor plants also offer a passive way to regulate temperature and clean the air. The columns in La Posada provide a good space to grow vine plants. There is also talk of an herb garden inside.

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Colorado State University features a “plant column” in their LEED Platinum pavilion. Photo by author.

Local fruit and nut trees could be planted around the outside of La Posada, including some of the plants found here.

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A dining hall that feeds thousands presents an opportunity to affect thousands. By shifting our current setup, we can further connect people to their food and invite them to think about the possibilities of how we can affect our communities through our everyday choices – starting with what we eat.

-Coleen

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