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Dining Hall stays green and spreads awareness for Earth Day

University of Richmond Dining Services is green in the eyes of the state, and with Earth Day approaching on April 22, spreading awareness of sustainability is a priority.

Dining Services was certified as a Virginia Green Restaurant this year, though Cathy Moran, purchasing manager for Dining Services, said that Richmond had been complying with Virginia Green standards for at least five years now.

"We're not very good about patting ourselves on the back," Moran said, "and I think that's maybe why we really didn't toot the horn before, but all along we've had a lot of green in-house."

On Earth Day, Sierra Club, Renew and Dining Services are getting together to hold a food waste study and portion awareness day. Heilman Dining Center will be without trays for the day.

"It kind of kills two birds with one stone in a way," said Carolyn Powell, the school's dietician. "Because you're cutting down on food waste, but you're also going to have to portion yourself out a healthier plate, because you can only fit so much on a plate, so you want it to be what's nutritionally good for you."

Powell will set up signs at each food station with portion suggestions and examples.

"People get the little bowls of like a hundred different items and then don't end up eating a lot of it," she said. "So, if they can get one plate, see how they feel, and if they want seconds they can go back for more."

She suggested that half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables, one-fourth lean protein such as fish, chicken or tofu, and the last fourth should be a starch such as brown rice or potatoes.

Two students will be stationed at the exit of the dining hall all day with trashcans to collect uneaten food to see how much the waste will total. Senior Christie Howe, treasurer for the Sierra Club, said that the club had conducted a waste study last semester that collected 1,760 pounds of wasted food in one day at the dining hall.

"It was a huge amount of food," she said. "It was ridiculous."

She expected far less waste this time around because of the removal of trays, she said. The results will be displayed for three days following the study, using large bags of flour and other things from the stockroom.

"I've seen students go through the line and take a dozen eggs, eight glasses of milk and six glasses of juice," Moran said. "The concept of going trayless for the day is not only the water savings and the chemical savings, but also what we do to our bodies and all we're eating and portioning."

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A lot of the initiatives to make Richmond a more sustainable institution focus on using fewer materials, Moran said. For instance, moving napkins from the front of the dining hall to individual tables encouraged far more conservative napkin use.

Another effort is that whenever possible, Dining Services buys its fruit and vegetables from Virginia farms, which cuts down on energy expenses to ship the food to the school.

During April there is also a Lug-a-Mug promotion during which students can get stamps on a "Mug-Luggin' card" each time they bring their mug to the dining center or Tyler's Grill. With eight stamps, they can be entered to win a prize pack of a digital camera, a $15 Best Buy card, an iPod Shuffle and a Spider beach towel. Multiple entries are accepted from students. The idea is that something reusable should be used any time it can take the place of something that isn't, such as the paper cups at Tyler's Grill.

On Earth Day, Acme Paper & Supply Co., the company that supplies most paper products to Richmond, will put up a display in the dining hall of all the green items that Richmond uses in its food services.

"I think that's going to shock a lot of people," Moran said. "It's not until you see the collection of everything that we're using that [it] will have an impact. It's more than what a lot of people think."

Cindy Stearns, assistant director of marketing for food services, said she had been pushing Acme hard to move toward "Earth-friendly" products.

"They call us their forerunners because we've pushed them on this," she said, "but it's been slow because [green items] just haven't been available, and if you have one customer in Virginia out of all your customers asking for it, you're going to pay more for it."

Dee Hardy, director of food and auxiliary services, said the budget was around $10 million for food, and she budgeted it out to break even while supplying as much sustainability as possible.

"We're trying to partner with the student groups that are interested and other campus departments that have a stake in this also, and trying to do a better job of educating," Hardy said. "We've started by saying we're moving some of our products to these things that we can afford.... Our goal is to make some progress each year."

In addition to getting the message out to students about not wasting and staying environmentally aware, when students talk back, Dining Services listens. The latest suggestion that dining service administrators are considering is providing take-out boxes at the dining hall.

The Cellar already allows take-out, and is using a biodegradable sugar-cane-based box instead of a Styrofoam or plastic box, the same boxes they are considering using at the dining hall, Hardy said.

"I think there's a generation skip," Stearns said. "Back in my generation, the hippies, we were all about recycling. I mean I've been all about recycling forever and then all of a sudden, it just went away."

Howe missed that skip, since she was raised to be environmentally aware, she said. An introductory level environmental class sparked her activeness on campus, and she wanted to bring some more awareness to her fellow students.

"I definitely think we've made progress," Howe said. "I think we continue to make progress since President Ayers has signed the President's Climate Commitment."

The Climate Commitment included Richmond in a group of hundreds of other institutions across the country in an agreement to sharply reduce and eventually eliminate global warming emissions and educate students about re-stabilizing the climate.

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