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 SRU dishes up tall order of green, leads natural food movement 



Oct. 6, 2008
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SRU dishes up tall order of green, leads natural foods movement


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The greening movement is taking hold in the student-favorite world of food at Slippery Rock University. A number of all-natural options have been introduced this fall, including T&B Naturally Caf�, the first nationally on a college campus to offer organic beverages and snacks.

            The muffins there have become the hottest treat on campus, but that's just one component  of SRU's green grocer movement. The dining halls and grills now offer produce from 25 sustainable growers, including Cool Springs Organics, Frankferd Farms Organics, Mung Dynasty Sprouts, Tom Alexander Hydroponics and Spring Valley Gardens.

            "We choose to buy the freshest foods we can find from local farmers and producers, providing a recognizable support to the local economy," said John Vag of AVI Foodservices, the University's food service provider. "Organic is very popular at Slippery Rock University because of the emphasis on sustainability in the curriculum and campus culture."
            SRU, which pioneered greening education when it launched a masters program in sustainable systems more 15 years ago, has also begun using biodegradable green ware cups made from corn resin. In January, the dining halls will roll out re-usable containers called eco-clamshells. SRU will become the first University in the region to use the biodegradable containers for takeout.

            "We are committed to educating our customers on healthy dining initiatives through proper food choices and leading the way in recycling," Vag said.

             A growing number of consumers and environmentalists take exception to synthetic chemicals in food, which opponents blame for a lengthy list of ailments, including cancer. All-natural products contain no chemicals. Buying vegetables and fruit from local growers - SRU's suppliers are within 150 miles of campus - puts fresher food on the table and eliminates contamination risks associated with long-distance trucking.

             "SRU's efforts are important for several reasons," said Langdon Smith, associate professor of geography, geology and the environment and the new graduate coordinator of SRU's master of science in sustainable systems program. "It is important that we as educators lead by example and make the right choices. These efforts are also a great teaching tool that can really build environmental awareness among with the student body and in the surrounding community."

             Sustainability is the concept of merging sound environmental and economic policy.

              "A large university has tremendous purchasing power and to direct that investment into local farms and companies producing environmentally friendly products can make a big difference," Smith said. "These educated purchasing decisions not only strengthen the local economies, they reduce energy use and can protect our environment by preventing the release of pesticides and other chemicals."


             All natural caf� provides options 


             The all-natural movement received a big boost this fall when SRU opened the nation's first T&B Naturally Caf� inside Bailey Library. The caf� offers six all-natural elixir drinks, two organic coffees and natural muffins and salads.  Elixirs, with names such as Virtual Buddha and Liquid Yoga, offer a healthy twist on staying hydrated by mixing water with exotic fruit flavors.

             "We have problems keeping the organic baked goods in stock, they're doing so well," Vag said. "Organic products assure students there are no chemicals. It's just a much more natural way of doing things - it's back to nature in essence."


             Providing platinum service  

             In addition, AVI has implemented a campuswide "platinum standard" for food service. "We created these to ensure the highest level of food quality for our guests," Vag said.

              Food is batch cooked in small quantities using the "a la minute" philosophy to increase freshness, Vag said. Chefs start with fresh, whole meats whenever possible and put none of it to waste. For instance, fresh turkey breasts are roasted and broken down, using the bones to make soups, stocks and sauces. Beef and turkey for the deli are slow-roasted and sliced in-house.

             The lettuce in salads is hand cut and washed in small batches, not from a bag or prepared in advance. Soups are made from scratch, not canned of frozen. Even the pizza dough is made daily on site using no preservatives.

             "We pride ourselves on our pizza," Vag said. "Our dough is made daily on site using the basics: flour, sugar, salt, yeast, olive oil and water."

             Whenever possible, the dining hall uses fresh vegetables. Cooking methods include saut�ed, grilled, roasted, steamed or braised.

             Sustainability is often found in the details, as well. Wisenfluh Dining Hall decreased napkin usage 80 percent by making napkins available at the tables instead of serving stations, Vag said. And nutrition information on all recipes is available through AVI's Web site.

             "We're taking a much better approach toward sustainability," Vag said. "We are committed to buying local and reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible."

              The programs keep pace with the University's overall greening movement. Student-led initiatives include the Green Bike Initiative, a Growing Green Program involving 100 tree plantings and a green fund for special-interest projects, to name be a few.

             Smith, the new graduate coordinator for sustainable systems education, wants more professors to heed environmental awareness in their lives.

              "It's one thing to tell our students how to live more sustainable and make good personal choices, but if we aren't following the same advice, then it will ring hollow with our students," he said.


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives. 

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