Yale Dining leads initiative on sourcing sustainable and regional food

November 1, 2013

Yale Dining has made great strides in the last few years in sourcing and serving sustainable food for over three million annually served meals, due to the vision and leadership of Rafi Taherian, Executive Director of Yale Dining, and Gerry Remer, Director of Sustainability and Supply Management of Yale Dining. Currently, 37% of the food purchased and served by Yale Dining meets one or more of the following sustainability criteria: local, eco-sensitive, humane, or fair, in addition to other criteria for food safety, product quality, minimal processing, and low-sodium content.

As Yale Dining strives to scale up its procurement of regional, sustainable foods, it has encountered constraints related to supply and affordability. Many of Yale’s peer institutions are striving for similar goals and struggling with similar issues. “The problem is that there are differences in what schools consider to be ‘regional’ and ‘sustainable,’ and these differences in definitions and specifications make it more difficult and expensive for the food distributors to meet demand,” said Leila Virji, Sustainable Food Systems Coordinator for Yale Dining. “Our goal is to better define the demand to make value-based food items more competitive with conventional options.” 

Collaboration among colleges and universities on their sourcing priorities is a key first step. Food growers, manufactures, and food distributors will greatly benefit from this information in planning an efficient business model to meet buyer demands.To open the dialogue on this issue, Yale Dining planned and hosted the Sustainable Regional Sourcing Conference for northeast college and university dining directors and chief purchasers on October 16-18, 2013. Nine other colleges and universities participated: Brown, Connecticut College, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Rhode Island School of Design, Tufts, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and University of New Hampshire. 

The conference was sponsored by several distributors, group purchasing organizations, and manufacturers, whose representatives agree that if colleges and universities use a consistent set of criteria, sourcing sustainable, regional products wouldn’t necessarily be more expensive. The conference successfully moved the dialogue forward. In the next six months, the group plans to continue the collaboration on specific food categories and continue the dialogue.

This initiative supports Yale’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2013-2016, which includes a goal to “create a regional food alliance with area farmers and institutions, the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Yale Dining to discuss new approaches to food distribution by June 2014.”

For more information, please contact Leila Virji, Yale Dining Sustainable Food Systems Coordinator: leila.virji@yale.edu.