Sustainable Food

Sustainability initiatives on campus sometimes operate behind the scenes or go relatively unnoticed to the casual observer.  On the other hand, some facets of sustainability — or the lack thereof — are highly visible.  Sustainable food initiatives in dining halls fall into the latter, highly visible category, while food waste minimization and diversion may happen both “front and back of house.”

The dedicated staff of the Williams College Dining Services works hard to meet the nutritional needs of the student body, while paying close attention to allergens, dietary restrictions and environmentally and ethically sustainable food options. They also strive for the food to look and taste delicious. The Zilkha Center staff and interns support the Dining team by advocating for climate-friendly and sustainable food options, collecting and analyzing food data, and by working on outreach and communications to raise the profile of sustainable food on campus.

Learn more about Dining Services & sustainability on their website. 

Summer food preservation with Jill Jenkins

Sustainability Certifications

  • In 2021, the college, following recommendation by the Zilkha Center and Dining Services, signed on to the Cool Food Pledge (CFP), an initiative that calls on organizations to reduce food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2030 and to shift to more plant-rich menus.

    Zilkha Center student interns have worked with the CFP to compile all Dining Services food purchases since the 2018 fiscal year and calculated food-related emissions to establish a baseline and track trends over time.  Interns continue this work on an annual basis.  The preliminary results informed the fall menu-planning process and the Zilkha Center discussed additional strategies to reduce emissions with the chefs and unit managers. Delicious, plant-rich options this year include Build-Your-Own Bowls, Ramen Night, and Plant-Rich Mondays at Mission.

    For more on this initiative, read "Food for the Future: Reducing our Carbon Footprint through Sustainable Purchasing" by Sustainable Food Intern Zoe Kane '24.

    Logo: Coolfood – Delicious Climate Action

  • The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) certification program provides a transparent way to measure each restaurant/dining unit’s environmental accomplishments — across eight categories — while providing a pathway for the next steps they can take to increase their environmental sustainability. All units in Paresky achieved GRA Level 1 certification in 2021-2022. The other units will be pursuing GRA during the 2022-2023 academic year.

    See below for the scorecards for each Paresky unit.

    Whitman's               Lee Snack Bar               '82 Grill                  Fresh 'n Go

    Logo: Green Restaurant Association -

Group of people sharing a meal on the envi center porch

Past Sustainable Food Efforts

  • In addition to increasing the sustainability of campus food through pursuing sustainable food certifications, various efforts to integrate sustainability into campus food are regularly under way. 

    In 2014, a student group called Real Food Williams advocated for fair trade bananas in the dining halls.  For a number of years in the late 2000s to mid 2010s, the college had a Sustainable Food & Agriculture Program, the mission of which was to inspire and provide leadership to further develop the college's academic resources, extra-curricular opportunities, and practical approaches to sustainable food from a broad range of perspectives — social justice, environmental, cultural and economic. 

    Two efforts are highlighted here:

    • a push to reduce industrial beef purchased by Dining by 50% in 2016-2017 by thinkFood, a registered student organization at the time, and
    • an independent study by Erica Change '18 in which she partnered with Dining Services to increase sustainable seafood on campus.
    "Ever thought about who pays the real costs of keeping burgers on the Dollar Menu" -thinkFood
    A post about thinkFood's efforts to reduce industrial beef on campus (CES)


    Erica Chang & a Red's Best sustainable seafood display
    Local, Sustainable Seafood: An Independent Study by Erica Chang ‘18







  • Real Food Challenge (RFC), a national nonprofit, was founded with the goal of leveraging the purchasing power of universities to create a sustainable food system.  Their initial campaign, launched in the early 2010s, involved a push for signatories to shift 20% of institutional food purchases on their campuses to "real food" by 2020.  Williams never formally signed on to the commitment but used RFC's Real Food Guide to push food purchases towards sustainable food.  Learn more about the college's RFC efforts here.

  • Sustainable food interns Allison Li '22 and Gold Carson '23 after leading lunch-and-learns about food values and food workers. (2019
    Sustainable food interns Allison Li '22 and Gold Carson '23 after leading lunch-and-learns about food values and food workers. (2019

    In Fall 2019, the Zilkha Center partnered with many student groups, offices, and departments across campus to present Food Justice Week and Beyond, a series of events intended to increase campus engagement with sustainable food and food justice issues, and help the Williams community define its food values.


Engaging with Sustainable Food on Campus

Whether you are a student, member of the faculty, or staff, there are a number of ways to engage with food sustainability on campus. Click here to learn more!