Of course it’s about the food, says Anne Zok, nutrition manager with Western hospitality services. It’s about the freshness, nutrition, taste, quality and variety.
But at Western residences – where sustainability is baked into each step in the process of food purchasing, preparation and post-meal disposal – it’s also about much more than what’s on the menu.
“We’re looking beyond the plate,” Zok says, “to think about how ingredients are grown, how food is transported and prepared and packaged, and what we can do with the so-called ‘waste’ at the end of the cycle.”
That’s why students this year will find a wider array of locally and ethically sourced food; more menu items for people with special dietary needs; and packaging so environmentally friendly even the cutlery is designed to return to the Earth.
“We’re aiming to be as sustainable and responsible as we can be, and we view all decisions through that lens,” says Zok, whose innovations have also won her a Western Green Award.
Her team – and those in purchasing, housing, facilities management and at Western’s sustainability office – have developed a plan for responsible sourcing, sustainable dining, waste reduction and diversion, as well as collaboration.
In procuring ingredients and packaging, for example, they’ve prioritized Ontario- and Canada-sourced raw materials and/or processes; vendors who have demonstrated commitment to environmental sustainability; and products committed to principles and practices of animal and marine welfare.
As the school year starts, food services in residence will initially forgo reusable dinnerware, she said.
“Out of an abundance of pandemic precautions, we’ll have one-time use plates, cups and cutlery for at least the first term,” she said.
Almost all of it will be plant-based and fully biodegradable, including cutlery ‘plastic’ derived from corn or sugar cane fibres.
“We are working to divert as much as we can to compost first, and the rest to recycling,” she said.
The hospitality services’ efforts builds on Western’s commitment to sustainable development, identified as a priority in the university’s new strategic plan. It also targets several of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals for protecting the planet and its inhabitants, including food security, improved nutrition, good health, conservation of life on land and in water, and responsible production and consumption.
Western’s emphasis on sustainability in campus operations, facilities and investments has also placed it in a ranking with the top five per cent of universities worldwide.
Following are some new measures in residence and campus food operations.
- New local meat vendor The Butcher Shoppe offers halal chicken and beef. Some other local long-standing partners include Hayter Turkey Farm, Metzers Meats, Burnbrai Farms (Egg), Heff’s Hives & Boutique, Kelvin’s Fritter shop
- Through primary distributor Sysco, more sustainable seafood certified by Ocean Wise and the Marine Stewardship Council
- Partner with Sweets from the Earth, a bakery offering all vegan, gluten-free and nut-free options
- Starbucks fair-trade coffee in all residences and fair-trade tea from Teavana and Fireroasted
Waste reduction and diversion
- Single-use containers that can all be diverted either to compost or to recycling; as pandemic precautions ease, re-introduce reusable dishware, including ‘Choose2Reuse’ travel mug
- Biodegradable cutlery in all dining locations in residence and throughout campus
- New waste diversion ambassadors in residence, where student volunteers will help educate peers on proper waste sorting in dining halls and, through Western Sustainability, rebranded waste stations across campus
- More plant-based meal options, including Beyond Meat products in residence dining halls and the FIXX in UCC
- More support for students with special dietary needs by connecting them directly with the culinary leadership team on move-in days and throughout school year
- Expanded in-house sushi production in residence dining halls
- More off-campus meal-plan partners who serve halal options, including Shelby’s Middle Eastern Restaurant, in addition to the university’s current off-campus partnership with Barakat Restaurant
- Partnership with London’s Ark Aid Street Mission, including daily donations of unused food to support the local community
- Continuous educational programs and training, an effort recognized in a 2020 SKAL International Sustainable Tourism Award (the only Canadian institutional winner among all award categories).