Luther cafeteria focused on sustainability during Energy Evolution month

March 5, 2010

The Luther College cafeteria is providing more than food for the hungry stomachs of Luther students, it is also providing food for thought for their hungry minds.    

As part of the college’s February Energy Competition, students from the Energy Evolution Planning Team and Diane Narum, Luther dining services production manager, hosted theme nights each Tuesday to connect energy awareness to the cafeteria’s sustainability initiatives.     

“The Luther cafeteria is doing some really fabulous things in regard to sustainability, and we thought Energy Evolution month would be a great opportunity to highlight some of those projects,” said Maren Stumme-Diers, Luther assistant sustainability coordinator. “Our original idea was to have one themed night in February, but we soon realized there were far too many good things happening to fit it all into one night.”    

The first theme night focused on the increase in local foods purchased by Luther. During the past four years, Luther has increased the amount of local food purchased from a total of about $18,000 in 2006-07 to almost $147,000 so far during the 2009-10 academic year, a figure that represents 17 percent of Luther’s total food purchase budget.     

“In recent years, the cafeteria has worked really hard to increase the amount of local foods purchased,” said Stumme-Diers.  “Luther has made the dramatic shift from having one-to-two local food meals per year to having local foods available to students at every meal.”    

“Much of this progress can be attributed to administrative support and the hard work of Diane Narum,” said Stumme-Diers. “She has built strong relationships with local producers and continues to seek creative ways to incorporate more local foods into the cafeteria.”     

The second theme night focused on water conservation and waste awareness.   

A few years ago the cafeteria made the decision to go “trayless,” resulting in 3,000 fewer trays washed each day. This initiative has reduced water use by nearly 700 gallons each day.    

The waste awareness theme included sustainability education as students standing by the cafeteria’s compost bins provided information to cafeteria patrons about proper composting, encouraging them to avoid placing contaminants, such as meat, dairy and plastic, in the compost bins.    

For the composting decomposition process to work properly, solid waste materials such as tableware, coffee creamers and stirrers, Styrofoam, plastic bags and aluminum or tin cans, must be kept separate from organic, compostable materials.    

The third theme night was “Grass-Fed Night,” which highlighted the fact that nearly 100 percent of Luther’s pork and beef is purchased from Grass Run Farms, a collaboration of three organic family farms in northeast Iowa. Grass-fed night was held in conjunction with author Michael Pollan’s presentation of the Farewell Lecture, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”     

Luther’s sustainability initiatives address many of the issues Pollan has reported for more than 20 years in his books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersection: food, gardens, drugs and agriculture.    

The Grass-Fed Night highlighted the potential health and environmental benefits of grass-fed meat, which include lower fat content, lower calories and more Omega-3s than grain-fed meat, and a live stock production method that is a more sustainable model of agriculture.    

The fourth and final theme night educated students on the environmental impacts of various types of diets. Vegetarian fare was served and the impacts of eating less meat were demonstrated through signs placed throughout the cafeteria.    

“I like to think that every bite we take is a vote for the world in which we want to live,” said Stumme-Diers. “We each get the chance to vote many times each day, and our hope is that by doing more with food educations, students will be able to cast their ballots in a more informed way.”    

“The theme nights were a great success,” said Stumme-Diers. “I anticipate that many more local food celebrations and educational evenings will take place in the months and years to come as Luther works towards its goal of serving 35 percent local food to campus diners.”