Local food growers displayed fresh produce for sale and offered samples of juices and nuts to buy. Curious fingers tentatively picked through barrels of leafy greens and herbs from a local farmer, and bagged up handfuls to take home. Plates filled with epicurean treats like cheese-less pizza and turkey burgers topped with fresh salsa. Mouths were flowing with excited conversation about fresh, locally grown foods and the environment. Or as one student put it, “Why is the caf so weird today?”
It was Low Carbon Diet Day in the Market Café at USF, and for one lunch period, students ate nothing but locally grown and earth-friendly meals.
According to Holly Winslow, general manager for Bon Appetit at USF, Low Carbon Diet Day is Bon Appetit’s annual program to bring awareness of the connection between climate change and food service. Winslow said, “We try to create unique and beautiful foods that make a lower carbon impact on the world.”
A diet is “low carbon” if it makes a low impact on the environment. Some strategies for eating low carbon are eating seasonally and locally grown foods, minimizing food waste, cutting back on beef and cheese, and eating locally raised meat and fish.
Bon Appetit, an on site restaurant company that provides cafeteria food service for corporations and universities, has become one of the leading forces in the low-carbon diet movement. The company runs a web site called EatLowCarbon.org and sets high environmental standards for all of its kitchens.
At USF, Winslow said all of the produce she orders is as local as possible, ordering everything from within a 150 mile radius, except in cases where those foods are not seasonally grown here. In fact, at the Market Café, every day is relatively low carbon. The Low Carbon Diet Day was a chance to bring in new and interesting foods and gave students the opportunity to meet some of the farmers who grow the food they regularly consume.
One such farmer was Grant Brians, owner of Heirloom Organics Farms. Brians sat proudly in the middle of the cafeteria surrounded with his unusual fresh greens and root vegetables. “I’m what you call a ‘specialty vegetable grower,’” he said, pointing out his prized wild stinging nettles and watermelon radishes. “I’m trying to cultivate a purple carrot so dark it’s almost black.”
Brians said that among the USF crowd, he had been selling a lot of Asian greens and a salty, mineral-rich leafy green called orach. Students got to interact with Brians, a farmer who grows some of the foods they eat regularly at the cafeteria, as he offered them samples and talked to them about his array of vegetables.
Many students reacted very positively to the event and the opportunity to try new flavors that are not always offered in a school cafeteria. Sophomore Hayley Zuercher, whose plate was loaded with beets, asparagus and a slice of cheese-less pizza topped with raisins and olives, said “This is the best day of my life!” Zuercher said she thinks about the environment regularly when making her food choices, shopping at farmers markets and cutting back on meat consumption.
The awareness day served as an educational tool for Taylor Wood, a student who said he often thinks about food in terms of it being healthy or organic, but not in terms of being low carbon.
“I think this is really cool,” sophomore Franny Sung said. “Think about the impact this would make if more schools did this.”
Sung said eating low carbon is something she thinks about but can’t always prioritize. “I try to eat locally grown, but it’s hard to think about it all the time when you have such a busy schedule,” she said.
With Bon Appetit regularly dishing out locally grown foods, even busy students can lighten their carbon footprint as they dine. Winslow said, “You guys think [Low Carbon Diet Day] is special, but it’s not. It’s like this every day.”