Yale Bulletin and Calendar

October 11, 2002|Volume 31, Number 6














Organic food proponent Alice Waters (right) and Chez Panisse chef Seen Lippart visit the kitchen of Berkeley College during the preparation of the organic banquet.

Berkeley College spearheading
move to organic menu at Yale

With the guidance and inspiration of noted chef Alice Waters, Berkeley College hosted an all-organic banquet on Oct. 2 to kick off its campaign to introduce a new ethos in eating at Yale.

President Richard C. Levin, Berkeley College Master John Rogers and Waters were among the notable speakers at the event to help launch the Yale Sustainable Food Project, a newly formed organization composed of members of the Yale administration, Berkeley College, student groups and Dining Service managers. The group is dedicated to making seasonal, locally grown and organic food an integral part of the University's cuisine.

A salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs, still warm from the autumn sun, was the first course of the dinner and a savory entrée to the initiative -- which, as Levin reminded the diners, is not only about serving organic food, but also about "using the food to educate all of us."

The impetus to bring organic food and sustainable eating practices to the Yale campus grew out of conversations between Levin and Waters, long-time friends. Owner/chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, Waters is a vocal leader of a counter-revolution in eating. She sits on the board of the "Slow-Food" organization and is devoted to educating the public about the environment of eating, from the cultivation of organic food to the spiritual nourishment derived from its enjoyment.

Having more organic food available in the dining halls has also been a goal of Yale students for a number of years. Lucas Dreier, a sophomore and member of the student group Food from the Earth, recalls that a major milestone of the organic movement at Yale was the weeklong celebration of local agriculture held here last year.

The event, which among other attractions featured a live demonstration of sheepdogs herding a flock on Cross Campus, brought local farmers to Yale to raise public awareness about the importance of eating food from one's own "backyard." Waters was instrumental in getting the farmer festival off the ground, helping to identify area growers and overseeing the celebratory all-organic meal that capped off the week's activities.

As the movement to change eating practices at Yale gained momentum among students, it also received the enthusiastic support of University administrators and dining services managers.

Levin recalled that when he presented the idea of Yale's going organic to Robert Culver, vice president of finance and administration, "Bob didn't just like the idea, he loved it."

Ernst Huff, an associate vice president of the University, whose purvey includes Yale Dining Services, identified Berkeley as the most suitable residential college to test the transition from conventional to organic food.

Berkeley's master and associate master Rogers and his wife, Cornelia Pearsall, are seasoned denizens of farmers' markets and champions of food grown without artificial pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetic engineering or irradiation -- the four criteria that define the U.S. Department of Agriculture's standard for defining food as "organic."

Now Berkeley College is spearheading the drive to implement the purchase and preparation of organic food on an institutional scale. Rogers is committed to having the program fully operational at Berkeley next fall. To attain that goal, he and his staff are working with student groups within the Yale Student Environmental Coalition; University administrators, including Huff and David Davidson, director of Yale Dining Services; and ARAMARK, the company that manages dining services for Yale.

The menu of the Berkeley dinner -- which was prepared by Seen Lippert, a former Chez Panisse chef, and John Turenne, executive chef for Yale Dining Services -- offered some idea of the complexity of an all-organic operation. Every item on the menu was identified with its farm of provenance, a total of 10 purveyors from Connecticut and neighboring states.

Finding these purveyors is the job of a forager, who builds relationships with a network of local growers to ensure a supply of fresh food throughout the year. The forager for the Berkeley College dinner was Josh Viertel, an expert in the organic and sustainable food market, whose professional experience includes working at the Mountain School in Vermont and a stint as a sheep sheerer in Sicily. After the first hard frost, when he completes his harvesting responsibilities at the organic farm where he is now employed, Viertel will begin working full-time on establishing a composting system for Yale, starting with Berkeley College. He will also help plan a small garden at the residential college.

Viertel is one of the many veterans of the sustainable food movement who assert that its benefits go beyond the physical health of consumers. Contrary to conventional wisdom, organic food is actually considerably cheaper than non-organic if bought from the farmer, he said at the Berkeley College dinner, noting that buying direct also conserves energy by eliminating the long, fuel-intensive journey from field to table. Most importantly, he added, knowing where one's food comes from reconnects people to the earth and to each other.

Viertel acknowledged that establishing sustainable food practices on a large scale can be a daunting task. "My idea is to start very small and do a very, very good job," he said, adding that one of his challenges will be to inspire a "sustainable psychology" among Yale's organic food proponents.

Another of the evening's speakers was James Scott, the Sterling Professor of Political Science and professor of anthropology, who is also director of the Agrarian Studies Program and one of the organizers of a conference on chickens at Yale last year. Scott maintained that, for any environmental movement to be successful, it must be based on the pleasure principle. The sustainable food endeavor, Scott said, is about the "joy of cuisine and friendship." It's not about Puritanical self-denial, he insisted, but about "community and the pleasures of the table."

Waters went further. The "slow food" movement, she said, is about the pleasures of the cuisine, from purchase through preparation to dining. "People should stop thinking that preparing a meal is drudgery," she remarked. "The pleasure is in the doing."

The Yale Sustainable Food Project can be "a model used around the country for feeding a large institution," she maintained. Noting that New Haven takes credit as the home of the first hamburger, Waters said the Yale community has a "big responsibility."

-- By Dorie Baker


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Campus Notes

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