by Slow Food USA Intern Melissa Rosenberg
In 2007, Virginia Tech Dining Services (VTDS) was ranked #1 for Best Campus Foods by the Princeton Review, getting high marks for student satisfaction. Recognized for its outstanding work by food industry peers, VTDS received the prestigious 2009 Ivy Award, bestowed each year upon exceptional food service operations.
Hired as the VTDS Sustainability Coordinator in October of 2008, Andy Sarjahani jumpstarted an effort to support sustainable food systems by monitoring every aspect of its food services. In a short time, Andy and his team have implemented a vast array of initiatives: removing trays to decrease food waste, composting, and working with distributors, non-profits and local farmers in a variety of Farm-to-College programs.
In addition, VTDS began growing its own herbs in a garden operated by the Horticulture Department and switched from Pennsylvania-raised factory farm eggs to Virginia-raised organic cage-free eggs. While somewhat more expensive, the food does more than taste delicious: VTDS’ $8 million budget enables the university to significantly impact the state food and agriculture economy as it feeds 34,000 hungry stomachs each day.
In March, statewide attention was drawn to the changes in VTDS buying practices after the Humane Society of the United States issued a press release celebrating the changes. Since then, staff members have come under pressure from such agribusiness groups as the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Poultry Federation, among several others. The lobbyists are asking the university to scale back or cease its work on promoting awareness and access to sustainable food.