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Green Dining Celebrates Community

Written by Office of Sustainability Student Associate, Jarea Fang, Class of 2022 

As the daffodils, cherry blossoms, and tulips start to bloom on the Danforth campus, the WashU community is once again reminded of our world’s beauty. WashU’s Earth Week has already passed, but campus is still buzzing with activity as students and staff alike celebrate the rest of April, affectionately known as Earth Month. Most importantly, we look forward to the nationally recognized annual Earth Day, on April 22nd, which celebrates the important figures and achievements of the modern environmental movement.  

According to Patrick McElroy, the Executive Chef at Danforth Campus, sustainability cannot exist without community. As we participate in Earth Month festivities, it is especially important that we thank the people around us—from the drivers of the Metrolink to the farmers that grow our food.  

The unsung heroes of the WashU community are the Dining Services staff, whose mission is to prioritize both nutrition and connection.  

This article is a love letter to recognize WashU’s dining program.  

WashU & St. Louis 

One of the things WashU is best known for is its dining service. Even as the world grew more unpredictable in the past few years, the meals remained comforting for all members of the community.  

 “I think it’s because our operations are especially hands-on and very customizable,” says Andrew Watling, the Associate Director of Dining Operations. “After all, we have such varied groups of students and tastes, you know? And food is an important source of social connection. We really want to make something special for everybody instead of hitting the lowest common denominator and calling it a day.”  

Under Chef Patrick McElroy’s supervision, dining staff process between 12,000-13,000 meals a day for WashU dining outlets. While some companies would sacrifice efficiency for quality or vice versa, WashU’s dining program does not. In the same way that WashU’s dining prioritizes the diverse palates and dietary restrictions of students, Chef Pat’s team maintains consistent and friendly interactions with the local farmers in the St. Louis area.  

“Sustainable practices are wholistic, ranging from sourcing, processing, to waste sorting,” says Chef Pat. “Our relationship with the community flourishes from constant interaction. Knowing what each other needs helps us use products sustainably. Sometimes, the produce guy might have extra tomatoes, so we’ll elect to take them all. Other times, WashU does landscaping with our compost so it doesn’t go to waste.”  

More than farmers and customers, WashU’s dining operations also work with local St. Louis vendors. The Bites of St. Louis program, the pastries from Bytes Cafe, and the presence of Kaldi’s Coffee on campus are all such examples. By introducing local restaurants and coffee shops to students through these programs, WashU establishes a network with other St. Louis partners that share similar sustainability goals and operations.  

“The idea is that we are getting these vendors’ names and information out there,” explains Andrew. “You can keep buying the food here, or go directly to their locations to support them. The point is that through dining at WashU, you’ll get the opportunity to find something you really love.”  

WashU & Education 

WashU is a huge stakeholder in St. Louisan, Missourian, and even Midwestern movements in sustainability. According to Ben Daugherty, the program manager of the Green Dining Alliance (GDA), WashU’s strong support of sustainability has a very real impact on legislation and collective action in the region.  

“WashU’s capacity to reach a diverse population empowers younger folks to take action in being more sustainable,” says Ben. “I also believe that WashU’s sustainable accolades attract like-minded individuals who will lead us into a more sustainable future.”  

  This component of education is also important to Andrew and Pat. It only makes sense, they say, for a university’s dining services to teach students lifelong skills on eating green and eating happy. These lessons are as easy as demystifying vegan or vegetarianism, or making recycling and composting accessible to all.  

“Most of your diet is vegetarian already,” says Chef Pat. “Do you eat green beans? Do you eat apples? Many people think eating green means eliminating all animal protein and that’s just not true. It could be something as simple as Green Monday or drinking a Jamba Juice for lunch. In the end, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and nutritional balance is the key.”  

Adding onto that, Andrew says: “If you spend four years composting and learning about plant-based food, you’re more likely to continue those habits after you graduate. It’s an opt-out system instead of an opt-in system. If WashU Dining makes sustainability the easier option, even the most minimal effort on the student’s part will mean the most.”  

Mythbusting is all about changing people’s mindsets, and as previously stated, WashU is a diverse place. People do not come into this community already having the same mindset or the same affinity for sustainability. You, dearest reader, most likely know more about sustainability than the average student or staff. It’s why you’re reading this article in the first place. However, that simply means that you, and those around you, have different things to learn.  

Tips for Eating Green  

The Green Dining Alliance (GDA), which certifies and promotes St. Louis area restaurants in their sustainability practices, supports and celebrates sustainable restaurants. Through awareness and education, their goal is to empower the St. Louis community to live and dine more sustainably. Here are some easy green dining tips endorsed by Ben.  

  1. Restaurants put in a lot of hard work and financial investments to operate more sustainably. Show your support and appreciation for them by choosing GDA-certified restaurants when dining out. 
  1. Always carry reusable utensils, drinking cups, and to-go containers when going out to avoid using disposable products. 
  1. Make it a habit to eat more vegetarian and vegan meals instead of meat.  
  1. Support local farmer’s markets like Tower Grove, and sustainable grocery stores like City Greens Market and Local Harvest. City Greens, especially, has a great prorated cost structure that allows its products to be affordable for lower-income levels. 
  1. Support urban farms, community-supported agriculture (CSAs), or grow your own green food! 
  1. Compost leftover food or use apps like ShareWaste to keep your scraps out of the landfills. 
  1. Let your restaurants know what you love about their sustainable actions and what you would like to see improved! 
  1. Bike, take public transit, or carpool to your dining destinations to reduce your carbon footprint.