Local Foods Pot-Luck: a Meal With a Message

“The food on campus is overpriced and bad quality. You aren’t getting what you pay for.” Conor Rice, a UVM freshman, expresses a fairly common sentiment among students regarding on-campus dining. Ashley Hall, however, realizes the potential that University Dining Services has to become a more environmentally conscious institution. Hall, a UVM sophomore, recently came up with the idea for a “Local Foods Pot-Luck.” With the support of the Consortium for Ecological Living (CEL), the Vermont Student Environmental Program (VSTEP), and the Eco Reps (who provided compostable plates and cups), the concept materialized on Wednesday, October 12th, in the North Lounge of Billings. “They [University Dining Services] are a lot more willing to use local foods and environmentally friendly practices than students are aware of,” says Hall, a Management and the Environment major and member of the Honors College. Hall says that Cook Commons is currently using compostable plates and cups for their parfaits, which few students are aware of. The Local Foods Pot-Luck was a big step in increasing the awareness about the willingness of UDS to work with the students. Two chefs from UDS were at the event, and were featuring a butternut squash dish poached in apple cider, maple syrup, and butter, topped with your choice of granola, oven-dried apples, almonds, or raisins. A vegan version of the dish was also available without butter. All of the foods used by UDS were Vermont grown or produced. As well as the food provided by UDS, there was an array of other dishes all made from local and native products. Many of the products used came from the Intervale, a cluster of 12 Vermont farms growing and producing both organic and non-organic local foods. Over fifty students turned out over the course of the evening, bringing with them and consuming things such as vegetable soup made with fresh vegetables from Arethusa Collective (a farm at the Intervale), pumpkin cookies made with fresh local pumpkins, locally produced tortilla chips, apple pie, apple crumbs, and an apple barley pilaf made by Hall herself. All of from Common Grounds, a UVM student-run farm. apples from Common Grounds were also pressed into fifteen gallons of fresh apple cider for the event. Hall stressed the importance of integrating locally grown foods into our diet. Complimenting her on this point was the speaker of the event, Vermont State Legislator David Zuckerman. Zuckerman, as well as being the head of the Agricultural Committee for the state of Vermont and a UVM graduate, is a farmer himself. He and his wife own and run a 16-acre organic vegetable farm at the Intervale. Zuckerman went on to talk a great deal about the importance and benefits of consuming local and native foods. “Local foods” are defined by Vermont State Law as having been grown within a 25-mile radius of where they are being sold. “Native foods,” on the other hand, are foods that have been grown within the boundaries of the state. This means that the food you are getting is fresher, and usually of higher quality. With less distance to travel, inordinate amounts of energy are saved on transportation. According to Zuckerman, the average meal that arrives on your plate has traveled some 1600 miles. In addition to being fresher and better for the environment, purchasing local foods also strengthens the local economy, keeping Vermont farmers in business and allowing them to resist the pressure to commercialize and sell to large food-distributing conglomerates. “A lot of us are either getting big or getting out,” says Zuckerman. Local foods cut out the middle man, and thus consumers are paying for the quality of the food while the farmers are getting paid enough to sustain a career in an increasingly difficult industry. Hall considered the event a huge success, as did most of the students who contentedly filled their stomachs with homemade delicacies. Hall, who is a member of both CEL and VSTEP, feels that the Local Foods Pot-Luck can also be a tool to better coordinate the University’s numerous environmental groups. With about double the attendance Hall was expecting, the future looks bright for this newborn event. “This is definitely something that will be annual,” says Hall, who plans to possibly coordinate the event with the Eco Fair in future years.