Carolina Dining Services meets sustainable food goal early

Carolina Dining Services has reached its goal of offering 20 percent sustainable food in UNC dining halls — eight years sooner than expected.

CDS partnered with the student group Fair, Local, Organic to participate in the Real Food Challenge, which was to reach the 20 percent mark by 2020.

And, as CDS announced last month, it reached that mark during the month of September.

Mike Freeman, director of auxiliary services for CDS, said he was not expecting to achieve the goal so soon.

“We were projecting a high 14 percent, so the 20 was a very pleasant surprise,” he said.

Interns for CDS used a tool called the “real food calculator” to audit the dining services’ purchases to determine their cost and if they were fair-trade, local or organic.

Rachel Atkinson, one of the interns, attributed the early success to purchases such as organic chicken and cage-free eggs.

Freeman said he credits the success to CDS employees’ commitment to working with suppliers and being educated about the program.

“On the real food calculator, there is a grid telling you where to purchase food and what counts as sustainable. So the more we do this, the more we buy from what counts,” he said.

“We spend a lot more time reaching out to farmers to find where we can get local purchases.”

Local farms and services providing sustainable food sources for CDS

Chancellor Holden Thorp declined to support the challenge when FLO pitched it last spring because he believed there were too many unknown factors, such as what “real food” means.

Even without a commitment from administrators, FLO and CDS worked together to find better sustainable options that were also cost-effective.

“There are a lot of barriers with buying from local farmers at a big institution like UNC, like health codes with local farmers,” said Glenn Lippig, a CDS intern.

“Our chefs do a great job at helping farmers go through those bureaucratic steps,” he said.

Senior Suzanne Fleishman, FLO president, said UNC’s food is underappreciated.

“There’s always room for improvement, but dining services still doesn’t always get the credit they deserve,” she said.

Now FLO plans to approach UNC’s next chancellor about making another Real Food Challenge commitment: to see 20 percent sustainable food year-round, since the winter months weren’t calculated in the initial report.

“We need to continue to improve next year,” Freeman said. “I think we can raise it. A lot will depend on lessons learned and how we execute.”

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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