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Highlights from Food Management’s Sustainable Food Webinar

On Dec. 14, 2010, Food Management magazine hosted the “Encouraging Restaurants and Institutions to Adopt a Sustainable Operation and Food System” webinar. The webinar featured John Turenne, president and founder of Sustainable Food Systems  and Dori Martin, district marketing manager or Georgia Tech Dining Services.

Turenne shared how, by incorporating sustainable foods, foodservice institutions can help reverse the negative impact of industrial food production and enhance nutritional, social and environmental welfare and the well-being of local economies.

Martin provided a real-world example of how Georgia Tech Dining Services is implementing initiatives to reduce water, energy and waste and introducing more local organic produce into its foodservice operation. These sustainable initiatives are estimated to save more than $800,000 over the next five years while reducing energy use by 26 percent and achieving zero waste by August 2015.

For those who couldn’t participate in the event, or for those who would like to listen to it again, the archived webinar is available under our Energy Savings - Continuing Educations section.

The webinar included an engaging Q&A session following the presentations. Some of the highlights are noted below:

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Q: How can students participate in their local and campus food system in ways that best support the production and consumption of more sustainable food?

Martin: Open dialogue, consistency and action. Georgia Tech students meet with us at GT Dining at least once a month. Students express concerns, ask questions and make requests. This interaction is a great learning opportunity for Georgia Tech students, and it helps GT Dining increase customer service and engagement. Students are also directly involved in sustainable initiatives, like employee training.

Turenne: I recommend they connect with the student organization called “Real Food Challenge” available at www.realfoodchallenge.org. This organization provides direction and support to effectively work in conjunction with foodservice administration.

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Q: Should foodservice operations focus on any one or two categories when undertaking a change in its food program?

Turenne: No. I recommend focusing on each of the “Five Spokes of the Wheel” (available in the downloadable presentation). Results have proven a holistic process ends up supporting the process of change much better than working on these aspects separately.


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Q: Any suggestions for food sustainability in areas with short growing seasons?

Turenne: Buy what you can. Shift to a more seasonal menu. Establish a policy that lists the foods that are only to be put on menus in the height of the season locally, for example, berries, asparagus and sweet corn. 

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Q: How should operations considering a sustainable program budget for increased expenses?

Turenne: If the process is orchestrated in a systematic way as I outlined, there should be no need for increased operational costs such as food or labor. However, there may be need for one-time investments in small equipment, training or consulting support, but these generally return the investment in the long run.

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Q: What are your thoughts on the Food Modernization Act?

Turenne: From what I have read, it seems as though the benefits of authorizing the FDA to finally have the authority to actually test for food-borne illness causing pathogens as well as the authority to recall contaminated food are very significant. However, if this process ends up treating large and small producers the same and results in unfair cost burden to small producers, that would be unjust in my opinion.

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Q: Does Georgia Tech use to-go containers?

Martin: All to-go containers are either recyclable or compostable. We found that there would be a 12 percent increase in paper costs if we transitioned to a full line of compostable to-go ware. In the interest of keeping prices low for students, we decided to go with a recyclable option. We expect compostable ware to become more affordable in the future, and we plan to convert when this option becomes more price effective.

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Q: How does Greenco’s [an organic recycler] hauling costs compare to traditional hauling fees for garbage?

Martin: Greenco’s services cost slightly more annually, but the cost savings realized by removing dumpsters [thus reducing tipping costs] and replacing Styrofoam with reusable to-go mugs has made this program cost-neutral.

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Q: How can foodservice managers access sustainability training? Are there any programs available to assist in the training of employees?

Turenne: Depending on your line of business, some of the support organizations, such as NACUFS, have created self-training manuals. Other management companies [Sodexo, for example] have incorporated company-wide programs. Our company, Sustainable Food Systems, also provides such training.

Martin: For Sodexo employees, there are sustainability training resources on Sodexo Net. If you are interested in more information on hourly employee training programs, please contact Nell Fry at nell.fry@sodexo.com .

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Q: About how many trays did Georgia Tech remove to save 21,000 gallons per year?

Martin: Our dining halls are completely trayless, and we serve about 5,000 meals a day. The campus food court serves about 2,300 meals a day and is approximately 80 percent trayless. This is a reduction of almost 1.3 million tray uses a year.

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Q: Does Georgia Tech use on-site gardens or orchards?

Martin: There is a garden club on campus with a very small garden, but GT Dining does not purchase from them because of issues with scale. We plan to partner with this group on a kitchen herb garden for our Student Center food court starting in the spring.

Turenne: The sheer volume of some foodservice operations or seasonal locale might prevent the opportunity to provide food to the kitchens; however, I highly support these for educational opportunities to customers and students.