For a number of years, Williams had a Sustainable Food & Agriculture Program that was housed in the Zilkha Center. That program no longer exists, but its mission is woven into the sustainable food work on campus.
What initiatives has the College pursued?
Williams College is situated in the Northern Berkshires and sits in the middle of a vibrant regional farming community that encompass most immediately the Berkshires, the Hudson Valley, and Southern Vermont. As a result, Dining Services often works with a number of local farms to source foods such as yogurt, soy sauce, vegetables, butter, maple syrup, blueberries, burgers, and more! A list of the local farms Dining Services works with can be found here.
As the College approaches the winter months, Dining Services and Zilkha Center volunteers work together to preserve produce that the College purchases from local farms. Butternut squash is preserved for soups and mashes, and apples are turned into apple sauce and apple cider.
Meatless Mondays began as a student initiative and is now a weekly fixture of the menu at Driscoll Dining Hall. Thanks to the skill of the management and kitchen staff at Driscoll, this weekly meal helps to educate students about the multitude of ways to eat a full and satisfying meal without meat. There have been a number of other initiatives to incorporate more plant-based food on campus. Read about the Forward Food event, an Eco-Advisor project in spring of 2018 and the push to reduce industrial beef in the dining halls by the student group thinkFOOD during the 2015-2016 school year.
Williams has been working with the LeanPath scale system since the fall of 2015. The program facilitates weighing all food waste and generating reports on waste trends. While using LeanPath for tracking pre-consumer food waste generated in kitchens is common at institutions such as Williams College, the application of this system for front-of-house operations was groundbreaking when we started it. The Director of Dining and Dining staff initially worked with LeanPath for over six months to design the unique weigh station and software update, which is now being used to measure post-consumer food waste.
Consumer-generated food waste is a significant waste stream at Williams College that has until recently gone unrecorded at the dining hall level. The information collected on consumer habits by the new system shows daily waste trends and empowers Dining to adjust production amounts, modify menus, and educate students and others about their habits in an effort to reduce overall waste. Since instituting LeanPath's measurements, we have seen a decline in pre-consumer food waste because it has helped our chefs use more of each piece of food when preparing.
As of January 2019 we have increased the use of LeanPath as a measurement system for quantifying food waste in the following places:
- Paresky (including 82 Grill, the bakeshop and Lee's Snack Bar): pre- and post-consumer waste is weighed with LeanPath
- Mission: pre- and post- consumer food is weighed with LeanPath
- Driscoll: pre-consumer food is weighed with LeanPath, and both pre-and post consumer food waste is composted
The Real Food calculator tracks Williams College’s food purchases over time, classifying each item as “real” or “conventional.” Real Food is defined using four criteria for the purposes of the calculator:
- Local and/or community based
- Ecologically sound
In order to obtain results, it is necessary to go through the college’s purchasing history to look at each individual item. First, an item is classified according to food group (produce, meat, poultry, dairy, etc.). Next, it is checked whether or not it achieves the standards outlined for each defining real food category. This process sometimes involved calling distributors, manufacturers, and farms in order to find out more about their specific growing methods, labor practices, or third-party certifications.
After researching each item, each item is classified. If an item fits into at least one category, it is real food. If it qualifies for two or more categories, it is Real Food A (Real Food B being items that qualify for only one category). All of this data is stored in a spreadsheet, which is helpful for determining which food groups Williams is doing especially well in purchasing sustainably, and which food groups need the most improvement. It is also valuable to see which specific aspect of “sustainability” Williams is most focused on—as determined by the prevalence of each local, ecological, fair, or humane qualification.
How to get involved