College tries eating 'green'

Eckerd students choose locally produced foods.

By NICK JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007

Eckerd College students are in for both a tasty change in menu and a lesson in sustainability when they head for a lunch on campus Tuesday.

The lunch being served by Bon Appetit Management Co., the campus restaurant service, will be made entirely from products available from within 150 miles of the campus.

It will be part of the third annual Eat Local Challenge, which Bon Appetit is organizing at more than 400 locations around the country.

The event also highlights a continuing effort by the company and Eckerd College to:

- Reduce waste.

- Cut back on carbon emissions by buying products from nearby vendors.

- Generally make daily operations more environmentally sound.

"A lot of people don't realize that the emissions created by food choices are actually greater than the impact from driving cars," said David Bateman, the general manager for Bon Appetit at Eckerd.

Bateman said many food products travel thousands of miles, from all over the world, so that consumers can have seasonal ingredients year round.

As a solution, Bon Appetit encourages its sites to take advantage of local vendors, replacing products that would normally be shipped with ones produced nearby. Last year they were able to add four local vendors, and Bateman hopes to be closer to eight by the end of this year.

That means Eckerd students eat local products year round, such as organic tofu from Plant City. "That will be on our salad bar three months from now," Bateman said. "We really want to make it a way of doing business here on campus, not just for one date."

The vendors will be on hand at the event to showcase their businesses and answer questions.

While there is a wealth of local ingredients available, some are cost prohibitive, and not everything can be purchased nearby.

Florida's scorching summers can also provide an extra hurdle for the Eckerd site.

"Produce is definitely a tough part right now," said Deidre Keelen, the chef manager. She explained how a couple of hot days or unexpected rainstorms can affect the availability of certain fruits and vegetables. "It's really been up to the minute. I'm talking to the produce guy every day."

Keelen said the menu will be focused on the ingredients that she knows will be available, such as gator, shrimp and plenty of citrus.

The concept of sustainability is not only affecting what students eat, but what they eat it out of, too.

Audrey Copeland, environmental coordinator at Eckerd College and a recent graduate, is in the process of developing a reusable takeout container.

The containers may be checked out by students and then returned.

The public is welcome to attend the Eat Local Challenge, but because of limited space, Eckerd College urges guests to call ahead for reservations.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.


Reservations, please

The public is invited to attend the Eat Local Challenge at Eckerd College between 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Tuesday. Lunch is $7 cash only. Reservations are required. Call 727 864-8411.