Phil’s Works on Eco-Conscious Food

Posted: November 15, 2010 in Editorial, Environment

Laura Green

Though Phil’s may not be your favorite place to eat, the Phil’s dining experience is becoming better for the environment than the average restaurant.

In October 2008, Phil’s took its first steps in becoming a Certified Green Restaurant.  The Green Restaurant Association issued its certification in June 2009.  Jaime Franke, dining services manager, explained some of the actions  Phil’s took to receive this certification, including eliminating bottled water, installing low-flow faucets, and composting kitchen waste from food preparation, like vegetable peels.

Perhaps the most important green aspect of a restaurant is not how it’s run but where the food comes from.  Wisconsin produces plenty of food, but most of the food served isn’t from the state.  The average food item travels 1,500 miles to get from the farm to the consumer.  Franke is working on changing that.

Student Bud Andrews is pleased with locally grown options

This past summer, Franke and the dining services crew worked on finding ways to serves students more local food.  Local doesn’t get any closer than peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes grown in the community garden behind Dominican Hall.  The peppers or the tomatoes in the salad bar could have been grown right at Edgewood.  However, the produce grown in the garden only accounts for a very small portion of the food served.  Dining services must provide produce from outside sources.

Franke’s definition of local focuses on food from Wisconsin but includes food from surrounding states.  While there’s a great variety of local produce available during the summer, students aren’t around to eat it until the fall.

This year Franke took food preservation at Phil’s to a whole new level.  First, she had to make an educated guess at how much food would be needed for the upcoming year.  After making the estimate, dining services purchased approximately 800 pounds of broccoli, 500 pounds of tomatoes, 250 pounds of raspberries, 250 pounds of blueberries, and 250 more of asparagus.  After purchase, the food was frozen and tagged with the date and the farm where it was grown.

Buying such large amounts of food wasn’t as simple as going to one farm and requesting a certain product.  According to Franke, one or two farms can’t provide enough of a certain item to meet the demand at Edgewood.  “It would be great if Edgewood could buy a farm,” Franke said.

Instead of working with multiple farmers to buy enough broccoli, Franke prefers the convenience of Sysco, a large food distribution company.  Systco is Phil’s main supplier.  Sysco claims to work with more than 100 Wisconsin-based companies, and according to an informational flyer, it can “trace the origins of every piece of produce from fork to field.”  Franke cited the issue of getting food from a farm to Edgewood as the main reason for not working more with local farmers.

Phil’s does feature some food that was purchased directly from the farm.  If you’ve put cucumbers on your salad this semester, you’ve likely  eaten produce from former residence hall director Megan Taft’s organic farm Seed by Seed.  It is a community supported agriculture farm, meaning that consumers can purchase a share of the farm’s harvest and receive a monthly box of fresh produce.  Franke hopes to partner with this CSA in the future to provide more of the food served at Edgewood.  She also said that some local produce comes from her family’s large gardens, which she said have provided apples for baking.

“Supporting local farmers is very important to us,” said Franke.  She estimated that 65 percent of food currently served at Phil’s is local.  However, her definition of local includes food grown and processed in Wisconsin.  Environmentally, there is a difference between food grown locally and food processed locally.  Food grown locally is harvested from a nearby farm, meaning it has a lower shipping impact and should be relatively easy to trace.  Food processed locally could have been grown a thousand miles away and shipped to Wisconsin to be turned into a product, making it potentially difficult to trace.

Franke is focused more on the social aspect of local, though.  She considered Frito Lay chips to be local because they are packaged in Beloit, Wisconsin.  While this may not fit the environmentally intended definition of local, Franke emphasized that buying from a local company means keeping money in Wisconsin and supporting Wisconsin workers.

For Franke, going local is all about knowing your food  is coming from a better place.  “My goal is to know exactly what farmer raised that cow that hamburger came from and be able to tell you all about it.”  This goal is something work towards if we want healthier, tastier food that’s better for the environment, too.

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