How Sustainable is UNM Dining?

The University of New Mexico offers a wide variety of food options across campus, a few of which include La Posada Dining Hall and the Mercado Union Club. These two facilities offer meals prepared by UNM’s very own culinary team. Many resident students rely on these facilities for their day to day meals. When running an operation, especially ones of this magnitude that service so many on the daily, it is important to assess its sustainability, not only in regards to food but to its operation as a whole as well. In doing so, we can look for more ways to grow.

Fortunately, UNM dining has many sustainability initiatives currently in place. UNM’s food provider, Chartwells, works to source locally and regionally grown produce and has formed many local partnerships to date. Some partnerships include La Montañita Co-op, Akin Farms, and UNM’s very own Lobo Gardens. Chartwells also sources proteins from suppliers like NestFresh that practice humane animal welfare, sources foods with little no antibiotics, sources sustainable seafood from a sustainable supply chain, and supports campaigns that reward farmer and laborer efforts. They aim to reduce the ecological footprint of their operations overall as well by reducing both energy and water use when possible. A more in depth look at their commitment now and in the future to their sustainability initiatives can be found here

Chartwells is also partnered with Soilutions to compost all food waste. In 2021, over the course of eight months, 51,408 pounds of food waste came out of La Posada and was sent to Soilutions to be composted.

Another way that UNM dining halls are working to cut down food waste is by eliminating the use of trays. Removing trays from the dining experience reduces the likelihood that students will over serve themselves. Food is cooked in small batches at a time as well.

In La Posada, students can serve themselves on ceramic plates and plastic cups, and use silver utensils that are rewashed after every use. Other throwaway dishes that are available are able to be recycled. In 2018, La Posada also began offering reusable to-go boxes along with reusable utensils. Once used, students are able to trade in their container for a clean one or purchase one of their own if they would like. These yellow to-go boxes are brightly colored and easy to spot.

Image credit: author

Once food is cooked and ready to serve, students can look to the various food stations at La Posada and pick and choose from a variety of food. One of the stations that they offer is a strictly vegan station called “Rooted.” Mercado Union Club offers a ‘build your own’ salad, fruit bowl, and breakfast sandwich, as well as different sub sandwiches and bowls to choose from. At Mercado there are two vegan friendly sub sandwich options available. Students can also look for Balanced U icons located next to menu items when searching for vegan or vegetarian options at both La Posada and the Mercado Union Club. There is one blue icon that indicates a vegan food and another green icon that indicates a vegetarian food. Going forward, it may be beneficial to incorporate an even wider variety of vegan and vegetarian options for students to choose from.

Many other university food service providers around the country are striving to take sustainable measures as well. Boston University, for example, shares many of the sustainable practices that UNM does. Beyond what UNM is doing, the university has implemented some other commendable practices of their own. For example, they reduce pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste by utilizing Leanpath technology. They also use Green Seal-certified cleaning supplies, dish detergents, and napkins. They offer student discounts on reusable mugs as well to encourage less waste. Boston University has set a great example and these ideas serve as further proof that there are often more ways to develop more sustainable dining halls in our own University.

-Posted by Marissa

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