Archive for University of Rochester

The Juicy Danforth Details

Beyond the aesthetic appeal of the new and improved Danforth Dining Center at the U of R are a multitude of creative sustainability initiatives. Here are some things you may not have known about the renovation…

Take a seat and you will find that you are sitting on a chair made out of 111 recycled Coke bottles. When these Emeco chairs first entered the market, they diverted 3.5 million bottles out of landfills!

During the demolition phase of the Danforth renovation, 75% of the total waste material was diverted back to the manufacturing process. This prevented 100.95 tons out of 133.84 from being disposed in landfills and incineration facilities.

The design of Danforth utilizes natural light in a way that reduces the light energy consumption. Meanwhile, the spaces that are lit use LED lighting and day lighting controls.

UR Dining has installed a pulper that turns napkins and food waste into compost while conserving water and preventing excess trash from entering the waste-stream.

These are only a few of the main sustainable solutions that were woven into the renovation, greatly reducing the environmental and energy impacts of the dining facility.

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Locavores Unite

Rochester’s first LocaFest was held on Sunday afternoon from 1-5PM in Genesee Valley Park, sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Living. University of Rochester Students and the Rochester community came together to discover the different ways to live sustainably.

There were representatives from a variety of local vendors, including Honey-hill Farm, Foodlink, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Fellenz Family Farm, and Abundance Cooperative Market. All within the Roundhouse pavilion, you could find live music, sustainable crafts, and displays for an assortment of activities such as worm-composting and food canning. Apple cider, sloppy-Joe sliders, lentil Soup, and carrot bread, were a few of the free samples given away at LocaFest. Some of the food displayed can even be found in Connections, right here on campus.

Alison Clarke, a community organizer and a part of the Center for Sustainable Living, had been working on this project since the spring, with the goal of showing people how to be creative with fresh foods and how important it is to support local business.

There will be another LocaFest held in the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled!

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Earth Day/Green Week/LFW

Earth DayIt was a busy week, eh? I hope everyone enjoyed the events. Earth Day was inside this year, but on the plus side I discovered Desert Monsoon. They can really wail. Local Foods Week was awesome. At least, that’s how I feel. Team Green wrote little blurbs (or “blurbos” as we were calling them) for each dish at Danforth and Eastman. I particularly enjoyed talking up the EcoClamshells at Eastman. Well, to be fair, Maria (a fellow Team Greener) did most of the talking. But I’m sure my facial expressions were invaluable. The risotto at The Meliora dinner was delicious. I mean that. Last but not least, the fair in the May room on Thursday gave me a chance to talk to dozens of new people about local foods and Dining Services. Score!

Anyway, I hope everyone has a good LAST THREE DAYS OF CLASS. Oh, and good luck on finals and papers.

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Catering+Sustainability=Sustainacaterbiliting

Meliora CateringTo start, a corny joke: It’s time for me to think outside the box… the lunch box! Ok, now that that’s off my chest, let’s talk about catering. Meliora Catering is the University of Rochester’s catering service. While not often experienced by the student body (something Catering is painfully aware of), catering plays a serious role in the “adult” world. That is, all the people running around running this school. This is personal speculation, but my impression is that a large portion of their business comes from lunch meetings.

Anyway, this article isn’t meant to be a description of Catering. I wanted to talk about some of the sustainability initiatives in Catering. In theory, Catering can be extremely sustainable, but as a service provider, it is to some extent dependent on what the customer does. An example. Were a customer to ask for silverware, glasses, cloth napkins, etc. That would all be possible, though more expensive. That said, were a customer to ask for disposables, Catering would oblige. Against financial odds, however, silverware lunches are actually quite popular. Let’s pretend that’s because of an environmental conscience.

Moving on. Catering has also been working on shifting its box lunch strategy. The menu now includes local and organic options. Terrific, but perhaps even more exciting is the use of EcoClamshells. If you are a student at Eastman, you may have seen some promotional materials regarding EcoClamshells, or you may even own one! The EcoClamshell is a reusable plastic to-go container. Catering is now selling the it for $4.25 per container. You may ask, why pay for something that does what a disposable container would do for free? Once again, I appeal to your conscience, but I’ll also appeal to your bank account. Every 11th catered meal is free when you use an EcoClamshell. That’s a serious deal. Granted, you have to be a frequent user to reap the benefits, but if you are, those benefits are nontrivial.

Ok, last point. Catering also offers the Green Guide to Catering! This is particularly exciting because I helped design it! So you know it’s long winded and circumlocutional. I kid. It’s great. It lays out Catering’s offerings categorized by environmental impact. So, if you’re ordering a lunch, you can look at the right-most column and pick your sustainable options with ease. Nice.

Ok, so that’s not bad. In fact, I think it’s pretty decent. But it’s not perfect. If you have a way to improve Catering, I encourage you to leave your idea in the comments. Or, even better, let Catering know. They’re friendly folks, it’s ok. Their number is 585-275-7687.

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The Common Market

Common MarketIt is the gorilla in the room. The enigmatic black box. The lost city of Atlantis. It is the enigmatic black gorilla in the Atlantis room box. The Common Market. I don’t think I’ve ever written about it before. I’ve barely even thought about it before. One reason is that Dining Services has essentially nothing to do with it. Although it accepts declining, it is run by Wilson Commons. No less, it offers food, it is on this campus, and there is room for improvement.

I can only talk about what I’ve thought up, so this is clearly not comprehensive. Please leave ideas in the comments! I won’t go into much depth (at all) because my main interest is in getting your ideas. Hopefully mine will help you brainstorm.

•Where is the food from? (As I understand it, the fudge is hyperlocal.)
•Is it organic/fair trade/etc? (Some is: chocolate.)
•Can more food be offered in bulk rather than individually packaged?
•What are the bag options? Is plastic offered?

So it’s a short list. But let’s think of it as a shortlist. Now it’s your turn. What do you want to see done in the Common Market?

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Fancy Feast

fancyHi folks. I’m not going to write about sustainability today, per se. Instead, I want to defend Dining Services a bit. If there is any sustainability tie in, it’s that Dining uses some high quality ingredients. Keep that in mind while you’re reading.

Dining takes a lot of flak. Part of that is invariably because it’s the only food service gang in town, and freshmen like to bond over their hatred for something. But how deserved is that hatred? At least part of it is unfair. Dining Services (serving 3 meals a day to about 4,000 undergrads everyday) is not always able to present food the way a restaurant presents it. You don’t get a porcelain plate, you don’t get a cloth napkin, and you don’t get mints on your check. That makes it easy to criticize the food (even if the ingredients are of a high quality).

But what if we reversed the situation? What if the food itself was terrible, but it looked good? That’s the concept behind Fancy Fast Food. The writer of the site goes to fast food restaurants and buys a meal or some kind of meal combo. McDonalds, Taco Bell, whatever. This is food that is almost universally recognized as the bottom of the barrel. It’s unhealthy. It’s made with low grade foods. It’s not even really food. He then takes the food home, and using only what was in the meal (ketchup packets, burgers, fries, etc.) cooks, blends, and garnishes till he’s blue in the face. The website is basically a before and after of the food. It is an immensely entertaining read.

Reading the site, one cannot help but ask, “what is important to us about our food?” I do think preparation counts (note, Fancy Fast Food is a self described “humor blog”), but not at the expense of quality. To cut to the chase, I’d rather eat in Danforth than off the Fancy Fast Food menu. Just consider that the next time you’re griping about the food.

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Huh?

question mark? Hi friends. You may (or may not) have noticed a bit of truancy on my part. I have to plead “lack of inspiration” (which is lawyerese for “lack of imagination”). I appeal to you, dear readers. This is your blog as much as it is mine. Tell me, what do you want to know about? What topics interest you? Is there a particular dining hall you are curious about? A particular food? Do you care to know what I had for breakfast? (An apple and two pieces of whole wheat bread). What am I wearing? That’s inappropriate.

So ask me anything, within reason. It’s open season.

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Oceansustenance

montereyOceansustenance, known to the layman as seafood, is one of the more complicated sustainable food issues. That’s saying something, I hear there’s stiff competition in that category. Anyway, you may know that Eastman (school de music) hosts a Monterey Bay seafood night one Monday a month. I must confess that I myself have never been (for shame), but seafood isn’t exactly my thing. That makes my life easier, but what about you, the loyal reader? Seafood may be exactly your thing.

I want to talk about just a few things relating to seafood. It is simply not possible for me to even gloss all of the issues in this post. If seafood was in a relationship on facebook, it’s status would be “it’s complicated”. For serious. Anyway, the eponymous agency behind the Eastman seafood dinners is Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, henceforth MBSW. They operate out of a conservation aquarium (the Monterey Bay Aquarium) and work with universities, governmental agencies, and independent groups to assess the impact of popular fish (the kind people like to eat, not the kind people vote for prom king). They have a well-designed website that recommends seafood based on its environmental impact. MBSW also has a facebook page, has a twitter, offers pocket guides, and has a free iPhone app. That’s some swanky stuff!

I also wanted to touch on just a few of the general issues with seafood, without going into much depth: Overfishing has caused more than a quarter of global fisheries to collapse, fishing some species to extinction. Polluted waters and an insistence on eating high trophic foods has toxified whole sections of our diet. Farmed fish experience a genetic shift (less fit for a wild environment) that makes interbreeding with wild species dangerous to those species. Trawling has been a popular method of fishing for about a century (it’s been practiced for even longer than that, but it really took off at the outset of the 20th century). Trawling manages to damage the environment in so many ways, that it’s hard to imagine a more destructive way of getting food. It is to the seafood industry what agribusiness is to cropland.

MBSW offers a nice page covering just about every way you can snag a fish in the water. If I can editorialize for a moment here (I know I’ve been doing so all along, but this is my blog!) trawling has turned the fishing in the ocean into shooting fish in a bucket, and it’s managed to damage the bucket pretty badly with that gun.

My last random comment will serve to bring you news from the front. I suppose I’m doing this to prove to you that action can be taken on these issues. Here’s a New York Times report on what’s happening in Europe. Alright, that’ll do it for this week. Have a good weekend, and watch your oceansustenance intake.

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Chthonic Phthalates

PhthalatesIf you attended the Women in Sustainability lecture this week, read no further. You are now well versed in the world of phthalates (I won’t attempt a pronunciation guide). The good news: you are an expert chemist and will not have a hard time finding a job. The bad news: you are probably terrified of everyday objects. Shower curtains. Hair spray. And most ominously (not to mention relevantly), food.

Phthalates are endemic in our environments. They are part and parcel with the plastic addiction from which we all suffer. Bad plastic, bad. To make matters worse, petroleum is the major source of fertilizers (roughly speaking). Since most food in a supermarket has been blanketed with fertilizers, most food in the supermarket carries phthalates. Other than the terrifying phoneme fusion, what’s to worry about? Phthalates mimic estrogen in the body. To make that statement a little more precise, some phthaltes are able to bond to estrogen receptors in the body. The effects of this are only beginning to be studied carefully, but early results coupled with some simple thought experiments (what would a world with diminished sexual dimorphism in humans (and other animals) look like?) lead to portentous conclusions.

To cut off what could be many pages of rambling, phthalates seem pretty scary (I apologize for the scare tactics, it’s not usually my style), and if you are interested in avoiding them (I would consider this seriously if you are pregnant), try to avoid foods treated with pesticides, and heating food in plastic containers. There are more drastic steps one can take, but I defer to the rest of the internet (and beyond!) for that information. Good night, and good luck.

Check out this paper for more info.

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The Dotany of Besire

DesireHello friends, sorry I’m late, but I have a good excuse. I wanted to finish reading Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire” for you. (Don’t let the title of this post throw you.) I think it was well worth the wait.

The book is divided into four chapters (with an introduction). Each chapter focuses on a single plant (almost) and each of these is meant to signify the fulfillment of a desire. The plants are the apple, the lily, marijuana, and the potato describing sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control respectively. Pollan’s thesis is that Darwin’s concept of artificial selection is a bit anthropocentric. We are part of nature, not above or outside of it. Put simply, “domesticated” plants are using us as much as we are using them. It’s an attractive idea, and one that Pollan supports nicely. While the second and third chapters are indeed fascinating, they are not terribly relevant to food consumption; their reading I leave to your leisurely prerogative.

The first chapter (the apple, sweetness) should have some special interest to students here at the U of R. Apples were one of the first, and certainly the most prominent local foods on our campus. Pollan helps hone our notion of local foods. Apples are most likely native to Kazakhstan. As American as apple pie? Tell that to the Almatians. My point here is that our notions are less stable than we like to think.

The fourth chapter (the potato, control) focuses mainly on GMOs. That may simplify the matter more than is fair (again, I encourage you to read the book), but it suits my purposes (I’d make a terrific politician). The potato is used as the paragon of the new foods. Pollan tells the story of Monsanto’s development of a potato that contains genes for Bt, a pesticide. If you are familiar with environmental history, you are no doubt expecting Pollan to rail against GMOs at this point. He doesn’t. He is wary of the NewLeaf potato, and he worries about the rapid development of predators resistant to the pesticide, but he is dealing with two evils. At the end of the day, Pollan does not declare a clear winner: GMO or business as usual. He does advocate for organic foods, but he sees the problems with that. Pollan would not make a wonderful politician. He sees the complexity of issues, and is unwilling to pacify his readers.

So there you have it: a book without answers. That is not to say it’s a waste of time though. Beyond being thoroughly enjoyable (the main difficulty was reading while laughing), it is thoroughly thoughtful.

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