The Sierra Club recently issued its 2012 Coolest Schools list, and UC Davis is No. 1. Go, Aggies!
UCD is part of a growing national awareness of the importance of sustainability, from the first lady to college chancellors and school superintendents. Reducing waste, increasing fresh and local produce served and using purchasing power for good are all part of sustainability.
According to Dani Lee, sustainability manager at UCD Dining Services, over the past academic year, Dining Services has shifted nearly a quarter of its food budget — equivalent to $1.5 million — toward food that is grown within 250 miles of the campus, sustainably produced, fair and/or humane. This is thanks to increased student demand and six years of researching and implementing a farm-to-college program emphasizing transparency in our food system.
An idea whose time has come (again) is purchasing food as close to home as possible. In the case of UCD, campus-grown and -produced products are used in the 15,000 meals a day served by UCD Dining Services. They highlight campus-grown products from Mark Van Horn’s outstanding Student Farm Market Garden, Russell Ranch, the Olive Center and the animal sciences department.
Also included are organic white and brown rice from Marysville-based Rue & Forsman Ranch, which is served throughout the Davis schools for lunch; Clover Stornetta milk and dairy products from the Sonoma area; cage-free eggs from Glaum Egg Ranch in Aptos; and local and organic produce from our Yolo County growers in the Capay Valley and West Sacramento.
In Yolo County, Agricultural Commissioner John Young is heading up a 60-member Farm-to-School Yolo task force, chaired by Delaine Eastin. Eastin, a Davis resident, is former California superintendent of public instruction and the first state superintendent in the nation to call for a garden in every school. The coalition is working to support all five school districts in Yolo County — plus the Head Start Program — in putting more locally grown foods on the school lunch plate.
The student palate seems to be growing more international as well, taking in different flavor profiles from around the globe. School food service leaders are encouraging kids to try something new. Cathy Olsen, director of nutrition services in Winters, serves fresh jicama with chili powder and fresh salsa made with local tomatoes for her tacos and enchiladas. Rafaelita Curva, director of nutrition services in Davis, has found seven-vegetable Moroccan tangine with couscous popular with the students.
Georgeanne and I recently taught a cooking class to food service staff in the Oakland Unified School District where the gumbo we made together was discussed as a possible new menu item for this school year. The recipe, featured below, is from a book we wrote, published by the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy.
The center launched its Rethinking School Lunch program more than a decade ago and now is heavily involved in professional development of school food service at the K-12 level in California. The book, “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools,” is free and downloadable in Spanish and English from their website (www.centerforecoliteracy.org).
Students across the nation are being served a wider variety of local, fresh foods for school lunch. Eight hundred people gathered recently in Vermont for a national farm-to-school conference to discuss how they serve and process local foods such as fish in Washington state, green beans in Maine and beef in Idaho.
At the forefront of the daily preparation are, of course, food service workers. In California alone, they produce 900 million meals a day. For more information on their stories, see our new blog, “Who’s Cooking School Lunch” (www.whoscookingschoolunch.com).
Deciding what’s on the plate is the job of people such as Linda Adams, director of sustainability and nutrition for UCD Dining Services. She designs a new menu each year to welcome the incoming freshmen and returning students and staff. She says of this year, “Watch for a tasty new house-made black bean burger made with Food Alliance certified Truitt Brothers black beans and local organic Rue & Forsman rice. Also look for spiced-up oven fries (think buffalo and wasabi!) plus more Aggie-grown produce.
“Student Farm veggies and herbs will be featured in the salad bar as well as in lovely infused black teas.”
The definition of “local” varies from school to school. Districts now track the distance traveled by the food they serve from origin to plate. Dani Lee, also co-chair of the UC systemwide Sustainable Food Service Working Group, says, “Since formalizing a policy on sustainable food service practices in 2009 — which incorporated the goal of sourcing 20 percent sustainable food on all UC campus by the year 2020 — the University of California has shifted just over 14 percent of total food (expenditures), over $12.5 million each year, in all dining programs systemwide toward local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources as of August 2012.”
Student-run campaigns to get more sustainable food on their plates include the Real Food Challenge. According to Lee, this is one of the most integral and successful student-run campaigns. It’s a nationwide grassroots network of youths and universities working to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and toward local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources — what they call “real food” — by 2020.
The Real Food Challenge has representation at more than 363 colleges, universities and high schools in the United States.
Flavor profile: African
This flavorful soup has to have Andouille sausage — nothing can serve as a substitute for the Andouille spices that infuse the entire soup. Gumbo is cooked in as many different ways as there are families in Louisiana, its place of origin. Gumbos can be fish- or meat-based; all contain okra, which helps thicken the base of the soup.
If possible, make your own chicken broth for depth of flavor. To allow the flavors to fully blend, prepare the gumbo a day ahead.
2 tablespoons canola or other light oil
1 3/4-pound chicken, cooked with meat removed; or 1 pound of chicken meat (white or dark)
¾ pound Andouille sausage, sliced on the diagonal about 1/3-inch thick
½ pound ham, diced
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 bay leaves
2 yellow onions, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 32-ounce can whole stewed tomatoes with juice, chopped
1 quart low-fat, low-sodium, chicken broth
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 pound fresh okra, chopped into one-inch pieces
Scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
½ cup long grain rice
Putting it together:
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the chicken, sausage, ham, parsley, thyme and bay leaves and sauté, turning the chicken and sausage until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.
Add the onions and garlic and continue to sauté until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, celery, okra, cayenne and rice. Stir; reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice in tender, about 30 minutes.
Suggestion: Add precooked shrimp several minutes prior to serving.
— Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of “The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” (2012.) Co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo, they have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm-fresh food in school lunch. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org