Story posted March 31, 2009
BY AISHA WOODWARD '08
It is hard not to be aware of the excellence of Bowdoin’s Dining Service. Named the best college campus food provider in 2004, 2006, and 2007 by the Princeton Review (and ranked No. 2 in 2005 and 2008), the Dining Service is known nationally as a model for providing tasty, healthy food while maintaining a commitment to sustainability and community partnerships.
Mary Lou Kennedy, director of dining services and the bookstore, has worked in the Dining Service for 21 years. Without doubt, Kennedy’s longtime presence has provided continuity to the Bowdoin dining experience, and over her time at the College, Kennedy has overseen a transformation in the way the Dining Service responds to and supports community needs.
Kennedy emphasizes the salient link between the Dining Service's mission to produce quality food in a sustainable manner and Bowdoin’s commitment to the common good.
"Because we are at a college, we have access to resources that can raise awareness,” she says. “We have been able to enjoy speakers likeBill McKibben (who spoke about global warming) and Gary Hirshberg (who spoke about the environmental practices of the company he founded, Stonyfield Farm). We have access to the latest information, and if we can act upon it, we should.”
It was Hirshberg’s visit in January 2008 that inspired students in Environmental Studies 264: Energy, Climate, and Air Quality to consider potential ways to connect their academic study to a concrete project in the community. Taught by DeWitt John, former Thomas F. Shannon Director of Environmental Studies and senior lecturer in government, students in Energy, Climate and Air Quality examine the multiple ways in which the federal government, states, communities, and nonprofits can address climate change and energy issues.
A substantial part of the course is a research paper, and while community-based research is not a requirement for the course, Sarah Pritzker ’11 and Ben Roberts-Pierel ’10 saw the idea of connecting to the community as a natural fit. So Priztker and Roberts-Pierel approached Kennedy to see if she would be interested in extending Dining's approach to sustainability by developing a survey to examine the commitment to energy-saving practices among vendors who supply the College's food.
Roberts-Pierel remembers choosing the project clearly.
"Sarah and I both had a desire to do something that would have a tangible effect," he says. "Our basic short-term goal with this project was to create a survey that was easy to use and could be effectively disseminated to current as well as potential vendors. This survey could help Dining Service learn what its suppliers were doing to combat climate change.”
Pritztker echoes this sentiment.
“I really liked the idea of helping dining reduce their carbon footprint because of how basic food is," she says. "Humans need to eat and we really need to begin finding a way to produce our food that is geared towards sustainability and environmental consciousness.”
The two students worked closely with Kennedy, Ken Cardone, and other staff to develop the survey. Then the students and staff members met with several vendors to determine if they would be interested in completing the survey to get a sense of their efforts to operate sustainably. Upon agreeing to use the survey, vendors completed and returned them to Dining Services and to the students.
In an age when climate change and energy issues are at the forefront, it comes as no surprise that vendors responded very positively to the survey. As a result, this year Dining Service uses the survey with all of its vendors to get a better sense of their awareness of and commitment to sustainable practices.
Kennedy notes that the survey project is an important step in encouraging more environmentally mindful practices.
"Asking our vendors to complete the survey is one way that we as members of the College community can demonstrate our interest in promoting sound environmental business practices. What has been a wonderful benefit, is that other companies are also educating us about the opportunites they have taken to improve the quality of the environment."
Looking ahead, Pritzker notes the impact the collaboration has had on her own education.
“I think the most important thing that I gleaned from this project was that individuals can have an impact on problems that really plague the entire global community," she says. "I see a long lasting place for our survey with Dining Service because it is in our best interests, both as consumers and providers, to be more environmentally conscious.”
Aisha Woodward '08 was a reporting fellow for the McKeen Center for the Common Good in the summer of 2008.
“I really liked the idea of helping dining reduce their carbon footprint because of how basic food is. Humans need to eat and we really need to begin finding a way to produce our food that is geared towards sustainability and environmental consciousness.”
— Sarah Pritzker