By Emily Barksdale
I know that a lot of people rag on the DH, but I like it. I’m a senior, and I still eat there at least a few times a week. I appreciate their variety, their employees, and, yes, their food.
Last Thursday marked the annual Local & Organic Day for the dining hall, and in my opinion, it was a great success. The DH strives to offer many local and organic foods throughout the year, and they usually are accompanied by an identifying label. Last Thursday, I got to try many dishes that were new to me, all the while knowing that I was doing the environment a favor.
Why go local? How do you find that? Well, aside from the DH, local food can always be found at farmers’ markets, local produce stands like The Tomatoe [sic] Vine and sometimes even at grocery stores. Buying locally aids the environment by cutting down on the transportation miles needed to get the food from farm to table. Thus, less fossil fuel is burned, and your resulting food is usually fresher. Buying locally also boosts the local economy, making a real impact in our trying economic times.
According to the Eat Well program at Furman, the average head of broccoli travels 3,000 miles before reaching your plate. Furman defines local produce as that coming from South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. The USDA doesn’t have a hard and fast definition for local food, so it’s up to each consumer to define their individual tastes.
Okay, so why organic? Isn’t that expensive? Actually, that depends on what you’re buying and from where you buy it. Organic crops are defined as that which are grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, ionizing radiation or genetic modification. Organic meats are raised on organic feed, are not given any hormones or antibiotics and have outdoor access. Organic food is therefore better for not only the environment and animals but also for the farmers and all consumers.
I personally buy organic food whenever I can afford it – which, let’s face it, is not always! But some non-organic foods that tend to have especially high levels of chemicals – the “dirty dozen” – are apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce, kale, and collards. Many other foods are relatively safe, but I try to avoid buying non-organic versions of the above-mentioned foods. (Of course, eating any conventionally-grown produce is better than eating no fruits or veggies at all.)
So, back to the Dining Hall. I munched on cabbage collards, roasted eggplant, chard and bean soup and kale, but my favorite dish was the Exhibition Station’s “Crimson Lentils and Corn Maqu Chouxtopped with Grilled Tofu.” The flavors really complemented each other, and they had Pete’s on the side, which was delicious on the tofu (though probably not organic or local). Beverages provided included fresh, local apple cider and local, ginger ale-based watermelon mojitos – yum! There was also an info table near the salad bar where students could learn about the foods they were eating and where they came from, and as we’ve learned from G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle.
As I alluded to earlier, I think that the DH always does a great job with providing local and organic dishes. They focus on serving seasonal vegetables, a practice that also aids the environment and is healthier for all involved, due to the increased freshness of the food. The chefs in our Dining Hall seem to enjoy creating ambitious and inventive dishes that, more often than not, turn out well and are a welcome twist on the classic pasta and sauce or sandwich, especially for a vegetarian like myself.
The patience and amiability of the employees just adds to my campus dining experience. I appreciate the willingness of Aramark to work with Health Sciences and campus representatives to sponsor the Eat Well program, demonstrating their commitment to health and nutrition. Overall, though there is always room for improvement, I think that the DH and other campus dining services definitely have some good things going. I hope to see more Local & Organic Days in the future!