Dining Services Sustainable Food Initiatives

A final No Impact Week celebration featured a wholesome student-cooked meal of hearty lentil vegetable soup, spinach salad with roasted vegetables and avocado dressing, onion and cheese cornbread, and Swedish apple cake.Williams Dining is committed to buying local, fresh food whenever possible, and is a member of Berkshire Grown, an organization that promotes sustainable agriculture.

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?

  • 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.  In the summer, an abundance of produce is available from local farms, but with a smaller campus population, it all can’t be used. Preservation of squash through pickling or berries through making jam help increase the amount of local food served in dining halls year-round.

  • 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, such as Forward Food plant-based culinary trainings, an Eco-Advisor project from the spring of 2018. Thanks to this initiative, Mission Park now has a Forward Food station with 100% plant-based food options. Check out this video about the project!

  • The now-dissolved student group thinkFood was the catalyst for reducing Dining Services’ industrial beef purchases by 50% during the 2015-2016 school year. Read more about thinkFood’s push to reduce industrial beef in the dining halls.

  • Dining purchases a significant percentage of our fish through Red's Best Catch-of-the-Day program, which aggregates catches from a number of small, community-based fishing boats, processes them, and sends whatever whitefish they have to Williams. This initiative came to Williams thanks to an independent study on sustainable seafood by Erica Chang ‘18. Check out her full report!

  • Dining typically hosts a number of special sustainable food events throughout the year, such as a local harvest feast in the fall. In Fall 2019, this took the form of the Real Food Dinners, meals featuring local, organic, humane, and fair ingredients. Furthermore, they host a Food Day event every October to highlight products from a number of local farmers and vendors. Dining also presents a sustainability-themed meal around Earth Day, such as the 150 Mile Meals in Spring 2019.

  • 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