MEADVILLE, Pa. - September 10, 2003 - Campus dining at Allegheny College is the talk of the town this month.
That's because most of the food that will be served for dinner in Brooks Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 24, will have come directly from local farmers.
According to Ron Simko, director of Allegheny College Dining Services, “This may be the largest dinner of its kind ever hosted in the area. We expect as many as 925 students, faculty, staff and invited guests to join us.”
In recent years, a number of factors including new technologies, “economies of scale,” and global markets have dramatically changed food distribution systems, seriously limiting the availability of local foods in local markets.
In fact, according to “Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market,” a report published last year by Worldwatch Institute, international food trade has tripled in the last 40 years. In America, food travels an average of 1,500 to 2,500 miles before it is consumed, the report said.
The problem is especially difficult for institutional food service providers, which must sort through a host of food safety regulations and at the same time satisfy consumer demand for variety.
Concerned about the environmental, social, political, and economic consequences of the globalization of our food distribution systems, environmental science student Desera� Pegg studied the problem last spring in her comprehensive senior research project, “Larry Boy vs. the California Cucumber: A Look at Local Food's Place at Allegheny College.”
Among other things, Desera�'s report recommended that Allegheny College students, faculty and administrators form a committee and start small—organizing just a single meal at first, to give the institution an opportunity to work through the regulatory and logistical challenges and the community an opportunity to learn more about the issues.
Clearly the committee has already succeeded in at least one challenge—identifying and working with local vendors. The inaugural Local Foods Dinner will feature food from more than a half-dozen local producers—individual farmers who have never before provided food to an institution.
Event planners will also use the dinner as a unique opportunity to harvest a bounty of educational benefits. In addition to inviting the local farmers to attend so they may chat with students, there will be a cornucopia of informational literature available. Literature will include menu cards; lists of local farmers; fact sheets about buying and eating locally produced foods; and information about other institutions that are beginning their own local-foods projects.
“It's exciting to see that this event is stirring student and community interest in global problems that are associated with modern food distribution systems,” environmental science professor Jennifer DeHart says. “We hope that this meal is a first step in establishing a program in which at least a portion of Allegheny's food can come from local providers on a regular basis.”
Allegheny College, a selective liberal arts college in Meadville, Pa., is one of ten institutions to participate in Project Pericles, a national project of the Eugene Lang Foundation, committed to instilling in students a sense of social responsibility and civic concern.