Nutritional awareness is home grown

By Gus Bode

 

Laura Williams, a graduate student in geography from Fairfield, rinses lettuce Thursday outside of the Vermicomposting Center. Williams supervises the center and delivers vegetables to Lentz and Trueblood dining halls. Though University Housing pays for the seeds, Local Organic Initiative of Carbondale, receives grants from the SIUC Green Fund. The hoop house built last fall was one project funded by the grant. Williams said twice a week they harvest from the hoop house and outside garden. With the help of approximately four volunteers and two interns, yesterday and today, Williams harvested more than three pounds of peppers, five pounds of Romaine lettuce, 15 pounds of tomatoes, and 20 pounds of cucumbers.

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National trends show nutritional awareness has become important to more than just vegetarians and vegans.

A study by Bon Appétit Management Company, a California food-service provider, reported the number of college students who identify themselves as vegetarian has risen by 50 percent since 2005. The number of vegan students has doubled, too, according to a Huffington Post article Tuesday.

Peggy Connors, associate director of housing and residence hall dining, said the dining halls have one vegetarian and one vegan option daily during lunch and dinner. The options are labeled with symbols so students are aware of their choices. The dining halls use locally grown foods, some of which comes from a student-grown garden.

Although options are available, some vegetarians are not satisfied with their options on campus.

Ed Sefton, a freshman from Naperville studying zoology, said it is easy to find vegetarian options, but he would like to see more of a selection.

“The diversity of the choices isn’t always the best,” he said.

Yvet Holmes, a junior from Belleville studying journalism, said she thinks it was easier being a vegetarian before coming to college.

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“I was able to cook my own food and make sure my meals were properly prepared and balanced,” she said. “I was also able to read the nutritional facts on anything I bought or restaurants that I ate at to make sure the meal catered to me.”

March 9 was named Registered Dietitian Day in 2007 to encourage Americans to become more conscious of how their health is affected by the foods they eat.

According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food from 1990 to 2010 have grown from $1 billion to $26.7 billion.

Holmes said she is concerned about students being able to make good choices in the dining halls when there are fewer options for those who do not eat meat.

“I also think it’s extremely important that the dining halls … show the nutritional facts online so that everyone, including people who eat meat, would make better choices,” she said.

One of SIU’s Registered Student Organizations, the Local Organic Gardening Initiative of Carbondale, aims to bring healthier options to the university dining halls.

The RSO uses organic techniques to grow food that can be sent to the dining halls. By growing food on campus, the group decreases the carbon footprint that stems from conventional food production and distribution.

Sefton said the efforts of local gardeners are helpful to the school since eating organically is important to him.

“I like to know what I’m eating isn’t sprayed with chemicals,” he said.

The Vermicomposting Center, SIU’s facility used for researching the method of composting with earthworms, is the site of the RSO’s organic garden.

Laura Williams, research assistant in geography and environmental resources and co-president of LOGIC, said one of the main motives of the group is to bring sustainability to the dining halls.

“The idea behind this, which is now being realized, was that some of the food waste that was created in the dining halls would come to the Vermicomposting Center on campus and be turned into compost that, in turn, could be used to produce more food for the dining halls,” she said.

Connors said she thinks it is important to serve local food in the dining halls.

“(Locally grown food) is fresher; it travels less; there’s not as much money involved by shipping it from the other states,” she said. “We get more than 30 percent of our food from within a 250-mile radius.”

Williams said she believes in a commercialized culture because it is important to consider where food comes from.

“Food is a basic need and it is important in these times to take a step back and understand what we are relying on, in order for this basic need to be met,” she said.

 

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