Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sustainable Dining in Houston and My Thanksgiving Meal

Sustainable Dining in Houston
When I was back in Houston for Thanksgiving break, I spent the better part of a day searching out sustainable yet cheap meals. Surprisingly, Houston, consistently ranked among the most polluted and fattest cities in America, had a wide variety of sustainable dining options that ranged from farmers markets similar to the one found in Charlottesville to restaurants that are “Green Restaurant Certified.” I did, however, quickly realize that while it was quite easy to find raw and unprepared food that would be considered sustainable at a price within my $6 per meal budget, finding prepared sustainable meals for under $6 was much more of a challenge.
My mother suggested that I visit a restaurant named “Ruggles Green” that goes to great lengths to maintain sustainability on as many levels as possible. The hostess was more than willing to give me the restaurant’s website address that establishes the following mission statement:
“Ruggles Green is Green Restaurant Certified by the Green Restaurant Association. We offer delicious menu items that incorporate organic, all-natural, hormone-free, preservative-free, products that are always delicious. We strive to preserve the environment through our actions in recycling, conservation, the use of sustainable products, and simple common sense.
We strive for all Natural, all Organic, and all Ways Delicious.”
They even provide a link to their Green Restaurant Association certification:

The only problem, which was a common one that I have encountered, was that there was nothing on the entire menu for $6 or less that would constitute an entire meal. Their cheapest sandwich on the menu, described below, sounded quite interesting but was almost $9!

Ruggles Green Veggie-Nut Burger - with Hemp Protein, Micro Greens &
Fresh Mozzarella, Lettuce, Tomato & Red Onion, served on a Whole
Wheat Bun $8.95

In fact, I went to 3 restaurants that were advertised as “sustainable,” and I was not able to find a single full meal within my budget. On the other hand, I was able to make my own meal with ingredients found at the Houston Farmer’s Market that consisted of 2 chicken breasts that came from humanely raised chickens that were raised at a farm only 30 minutes outside of Houston and a salad of locally grown micro greens and carrots with an organic dressing I found at Central Market.

Thanksgiving Sustainability Analysis

I went into Thanksgiving with the hope that my grandparents would prepare a meal that included a wide variety of the various fruits and vegetables that they grow in their large garden. Their garden is even maintained in a way that uses no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Unfortunately, my grandfather has been recovering from heart surgery and has been unable to fully maintain his garden. He was able, however, to make an all natural sweet potato pie with the sweet potatoes he was able to harvest. The turkey eaten by my family was a free-range turkey raised on my grandparent’s ranch. Additionally, all of the beef consumed during the meal was harvested from a grass-fed limousin cow that had to be put down after breaking one if its legs in a cattle guard. Other than these 3 examples, there were no other aspects of the meal that would be considered particularly sustainable, but I feel that my Thanksgiving meal must be more sustainable than most.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Local Food During Thanksgiving?

During my week off for Thanksgiving, I found that it was a lot harder to eat local food, especially for a purely local diet. I only spent one day in Virginia, during which I paid a visit to my local Whole Foods Market. Here I found that there was barely any local food at this time of the year, especially in the produce and salads department. There were a few dairy products and meats that were shipped in from Pennsylvania. However, my hometown had much less local food than I could find in Charlottesville. Maybe it was because I lived in Northern Virginia, where the land is mostly dominated by businesses and factories, while Charlottesville is surrounded by farms and farmland. Another reason is that this was far later into November than when I first started my project, so the availability of local food was far less at this time of the year. In addition, the Whole Foods was a lot further away from my home than it was from college. I had to drive 40 minutes or more to get there, which was a major reason why my parents didn’t go there more often.
I spent the rest of my time during Thanksgiving in New Jersey. Over here, it was even more difficult to find local food, especially during the winter months. Whole Foods was over an hour away from the location that I was at, and the markets nearby had no local food at this time of the year. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to find any local food, though I suspect that should I try during the spring or summer months, local food would be much more readily available.
Avik Dayal

Analysis: Eating Locally

In the week of eating local food, it was found that with a little bit of planning in advance, I could definitely eat purely local meals for around the same cost as my usual meals. In groceries at the beginning of the week, I got enough food from Whole Foods to last me most of the week for around 50-60 dollars. Though this is a little bit more than the average cost of groceries, it was not a significant amount more. The only major issue that arose in local foods was the variety found at this time of the year. Though this was not the only cost during the week, I found that I could definitely have lived on this cost alone. Other than this cost for groceries, I had about another 20 dollars in expenditures. These expenditures were for food from the Fine Arts Café and from Revolutionary Soup. Overall, my bill for the week came out to be around 80 dollars, give or take 10 dollars. However, I did not use all the food that I bought for the week, and could have used it for a little bit more time. With a little bit of advance planning at a different part of the season, a college student could definitely eat purely local food during the year.
Though a college student could definitely eat purely local food during most of the year for a reasonable cost, it would probably not be convenient. One would also find it difficult to eat sustainably local food during the winter months, for there are barely any produce products available. However, after my week of eating purely sustainably, I investigated how to eat a few local meals a day. Since I had a lot of produce left over from my week of eating purely local food, I had a few local apples for several of my meals during the week. Whenever I would eat out, I would try to eat at Revolutionary Soup or restaurants that served local food. Though the price was slightly more, the net benefit overrode the cost. I was eating healthier food than before, while also living with the knowledge that I was helping farmers and companies in the area. When you account for this in the long run, the food that I eat is well worth the extra 1 dollar that I paid for it.
Avik Dayal

Friday, November 27, 2009

Where Was My Organic Thanksgiving Dinner?

Thanksgiving- a time to sit around the dinner table to be thankful for all the people you have in your life. On my Thanksgiving, I sat with my immediate family- my mother, father, sister and my aunt, uncle and cousin. The meal was a cultural representation of a holiday dedicated to being grateful for the many things we as people do not consider during the rest of the year. Yet the meal I saw in front of me was duplicated onto every table in the United States. There is of course the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, bread rolls, sweet potatoes, and so forth. This the imagery of Thanksgiving. On a holiday when 5.32 million turkeys are ritually killed each year, it is important to understand where these animals come from and how they arrive to many dinner tables in America. I know for a fact that my turkey WAS NOT organic and neither was the majority of meal. We had some Whole Grain crackers an an hors d'oeuvre , but even those did not consist of any organic ingredients. So what does this say about the nation as a whole? On the one day of the year represented by a feast, Americans generally fail to bring organic products onto the Dinner Table. The New York Times Well column recently blogged about the cost of an organic Thanksgiving Day meal compared to a non-organic one. They found you could end up paying nearly 75% more when going all organic! From ivillage. If one has to pay this much more money, then is it really worth it? This page says you have to pay $100 more for an organic Thanksgiving Dinner.

But supposedly organic turkeys are healthier and tastier on this blog here. But Thanksgiving is already an expensive holiday- families are consuming much more than they ordinarily would, so why should people pay even more? Certainly, this blog explains the benefits of eating organic, but when it costs extra money (and a lot more $$) to do so, people usually drop out of the race and still with the industrial produced. So once again, we are back to the problem with organic products- no one I know of is against it, but few want to pay for it or have the money to do so. Hopefully one day when the price can drop to where even those of the lower class can afford organic food can it products be available for the general populace.

I think that if Thanksgiving consisted of organic products, it would be more settling the respectful to the holiday. It's origins are when Squanto taught the pilgrims how to plant crops in the fields of Massachusetts- not with the use of pesticides,GMOs, or fertilizers. The holiday is about mutually respecting the earth so that people of different backgrounds can bond with one anther. When people buy industrially produced products for Thanksgiving, it undermines the ideology of the holiday. But nevertheless, that the ugly truth, that when it comes down to money, people cannot afford the organic products. What does this mean for us as a nation? That generally speaking, we are not ready to make the transformation to organic food. The industrial process is what has allowed the US population to survive, and our dependency to it is not wavering. Of course, there are vegetarians, vegans, and some who took on the organic diet this Thanksgiving, but for the rest of us- our products come from the industrial process. There is a long way to go before an organic Thanksgiving dinner can become more of a reality for us as Americans.

A Sustainable Thanksgiving?

It seems to me that the idea of Thanksgiving is to bring people together and highlight the importance of close relationships. It is supposed to be a reminder that the things we should be thankful for are not really things, but people. Traditionally, bringing together loved ones on Thanksgiving also means providing a large amount of food for all to share. While feeding a large extended family can certainly require a lot, there is some sort of inherent fear among Americans of “running out of food.” Thus everyone tends to make far more than enough for the Thanksgiving feast. Preparing the food for this meal can be fun, and a bonding activity in itself, but it can also be stressful. The spirit of thankfulness of the holiday often becomes masked as something goes wrong in the kitchen and tempers flare. It is easy to forget that people, and not food, are what really matters on Thanksgiving. When one of those people that you hold dear is no longer there, the mask of materiality is easily removed – suddenly, providing a lavish meal with the best china no longer has any importance.

This year for Thanksgiving, my family decided to keep it simple. Rather than buying an exorbitant amount of food, the three of us opted to make pancakes for our Thanksgiving meal. While the ingredients weren’t local, and only some were organic, there was something far more sustainable in how we went about designing our dinner. We stuck with simple ingredients, ones that had been minimally processed such as unbleached flour and pure butter (rather than margarine). We made the meal from scratch, mixing the basic baking ingredients with fruit and nuts that we chopped ourselves. All three of us were involved in the making – someone stirred, another flipped the pancakes, someone prepared the table. And we made the right amount for the three of us – we didn’t have to worry about the presentation and making sure it looked like we had “enough.”

In a way, I feel our meal was very sustainable. At face value, we didn’t create a large amount of food waste and our simple ingredients overall were cause for less pollution than others. But I think more importantly, the manner in which we prepared the meal helped strengthen family ties – it was in keeping with the spirit of giving thanks for what you have. Sure, it could have been more sustainable. The ingredients weren’t local, the fruit wasn’t in season, and only some of the parts were organic. But the idea behind the meal was one of care in its making and consideration for others. These principals lie at the core of sustainability, in regard to food as well as everything else. After spending this semester trying to figure out how to eat sustainable, I have realized that just knowing the facts and buying the “green” labeled products is not enough. One has to understand the meaning behind it all, why we should even bother to eat sustainably. The reason is out of a care for others – a desire to share something wholesome and good with those who are with us, and to make choices that will allow those in the future to share these same pleasures.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Summary of Eating Organic at UVA

Comprehensive Summary of my attempt to eat sustainably (through an organic diet) at the University of Virginia

I set out to determine if eating sustainably is viable for a UVA student by going one week attempting to eat only organic products. I analyzed the feasibility of this diet based on five factors: convenience, affordability, availability, taste, and health, and determined how a student’s level of proximity to Central Grounds influences his ability to continue this diet. Overall, I found that the organic options on grounds are very limited, but Greater Charlottesville contains a large number of restaurants and stores which carry organic products.
For a UVA student who relies on a meal plan, one would have to primarily eat in a Dining Hall. I found that the most convenient Dining Hall to Central Grounds, Newcomb, has little to no organic items. They do incorporate several “Green Dining” concepts into the way they make their food, but they make almost no effort to provide students with genuinely organic food. Therefore if a student relies on the Dining Hall and is looking for the great level of convenience, they will have almost no options to eat organic food. Slightly farther away from Central Grounds, O’Hill Dining Hall does better with organic options but still is below satisfactory for what a Dining Hall at UVA should be able to offer. O’Hill always provides organic lettuce (although it comes from Salinas, California), but it has few other organic products available at any given time. Still, if a student if hoping to eat only organic food at O’Hill, it is pretty much impossible. Finally, there is Runk Dining Hall which is the least convenient of any of the Dining Halls, but has the most organic options. Runk provides a completely organic salad bar and various other organic products. Therefore Runk receives an acceptable rating in regards to eating organic at UVA, although it is surely the farther Dining Hall from Central Grounds. If a student is to completely rely on Dining Halls, it is very difficult to eat an organic diet under any circumstance.
If a student has a meal plan but also has Plus Dollars and plans to eat at the various cafes on campus, then there are several other options available. The cafes (Wilsdorf, Alderman, and Clark) unfortunately offer no organic products. The Pavilion XI in Newcomb does offer several decent options including organic (and local) tofu at Burrito Theory. CrossRoads, the store within the O’Hill Dining Hall, does offer organic groceries which are available to students. The best café by far if one is looking to eat organic on campus is the Fine Arts Café. This café offers a variety of organic (and local) options that are at an acceptable price. More importantly, many would agree that the food tastes very good. The Fine Arts Café is a place on grounds where one can eat organic food, not overspend, has a variety of options, is convenient, and seen as delicious. Therefore, this café is certainly one option which allows eating organic to be possible at UVA.
If a student also has money to spend, they would travel to The Corner. The Corner offers several exceptional options to eat organic food within the sphere of UVA. In terms of convenience, it is a fairly close walk from central grounds. One of the best options on The Corner is Revolutionary Soup which says that at least 30% of its food is organic from Polyface Farms. Overall, there are many organic options available and the some of the items have a great taste. Three, on the Corner also sells various foods with organic products. There are other options available on The Corner to UVA students attempting to eat an organic diet without jeopardizing convenience.
Finally, if a student has a car or uses a bus, then there are the options of Greater Charlottesville that in which a student can consider. Although there are many more options within Greater Charlottesville, the level of convenience decreases. If the student is lucky to have a car and does not have to rely on other public forms of transportation, they have to consider new factors such as time and gas money. Yet there are a number of locations which serve organic options including Rebecca’s Natural Food, Java Java, Integral Yoga Natural Foods, Food of All Nations, and Whole Foods. There is Chipotle (serves organic pork) and Harris Teeter supermarket, both of which can be walked to from the UVA campus. A really good option off campus is the Ivy Inn which prides itself on being fresh and local (with organic products). Yet many of these options are more expensive, so one must consider economic factors when trying to eat organic off grounds. Yet, a UVA student should know that if one had a car or means of travelling to these places, eating organically at UVA is feasible, although it may not convenient or necessarily cheap.
Overall eating organic is viable at UVA depending on the factors listed above. If a student has only a meal plan it is nearly impossible to eat organic on grounds. If he or she has Plus Dollars and eats at cafes on grounds, then his/her options expand, although the level of convenience begins to decrease. If the student goes to the Corner and has extra money to spend, then eating organic becomes much more feasible. The level of convenience does not dramatically differ, although there is an economic factor which comes into play. If a student has a car, then eating organic becomes more feasible at the University of Virginia. Therefore, one’s ability to eat organic food is dependent on one’s proximity to Central Grounds, how much money they are able to spend, and what means they have to travel around campus or off grounds. The reasonable response would be to add more organic options into the Dining Halls to make it easier for students with a meal plan to eat organic products. Yet overall, I found that eating organic is possible at UVA if a student has the means and dedication to go about this diet.


Below is a chart (subjective to our particular findings in this experiment) of the availability of organic products and the convenience for a UVA student living near Central Grounds. I believe it is very clear, that as proximity decreases (to Central Grounds), availability increase, which is not favorable for a student. This means that a great deal of effort may be necessary to achieve satisfaction through an organic diet. The chart below was made on a five star scale for the availability to each option.

In terms of specific options, each member of our group rated on a scale of 0-5 stars, how they would rate the following restaurants in Dining Halls. We then calculated the average of the four of our scores, this is what we found.

Rankings of Sustainability
Revolutionary Soup- 4
Newcomb Dining Hall - 1
O'Hill Dining Hall - 2.5
Runk Dining Hall - 3.5

More coming later for my final post. Happy Thanksgiving All!
- Michael

* Also props to the Israeli who came to our blog. I will be there in a month and I will look into how Israel as a fairly western nation is taking on going green and how its people eat sustainably.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Feasibility and Sustainabilty

In this blog post, I hope to evaluate just how sustainable my week of being vegetarian actually was. It seems to me that there are several tiers of eating sustainably, choosing a meatless diet is merely one of them. First though, let me define what I mean by eating sustainably. For me, it means making food choices that have minimal negative impact on the environment, factoring in all stages of production, distribution, and consumption. This is sustainability on the scale of the foodshed. The more I think about it though, I would say eating healthy would be sustainable on the scale of the human body. Obviously the human body cannot perpetuate indefinitely no matter how healthy the food you feed it. But I would say that healthier food is more sustainable for the body in that it maintains and improves its quality rather than degrading it, and helps lengthen the duration of its existence. I think though, that it’s going to get confusing trying to differentiate between sustainable for the body, and sustainable for the foodshed. So in this discussion, when I mean sustainable for the body, I’ll just call it “healthy” and sustainable for the foodshed will be referred to as “sustainable.”

There is no one solution to eating sustainably. It’s more of a long term project, a design strategy that is constantly being altered. I think that as far as our different sustainable diets (local, vegetarian, organic, and under $6) local is generally going to be the most sustainable, followed by organic, vegetarian, and then under $6. Obviously, someone could eat under $6 for every meal with absolutely zero consideration for sustainability. From there, I’m looking at these diets as, how would it change from a normal American diet where the consumer starts out with no considerations for sustainability whatsoever? As far as being vegetarian, there are several bonuses when you cut out meat. Assuming that like the average American this person was solely eating industrial meat, not eating beef lowers greenhouse gas emissions and saves water (it takes a lot more water to produce a ton of beef than a ton of grain). In theory, more vegetarians would mean less demand for beef and hopefully then less CAFOs, leaving the land available to return to its natural state – a positive for the environment. Regarding health, many studies point to industrial meat as a cause of heart disease and other health problems in America. Additionally, industrial cows are raised in unsanitary conditions within CAFOs; its not unlikely that the hamburgers they become are just as unsanitary, possibly harboring deadly E.Coli and containing antibiotics and chemicals (Food Inc.).

The hypothetical American is now vegetarian, but he’s getting more educated so he decides to start buying organically as well. Even if the organic food is coming from an industrial organic farm, the consumer is still supporting agriculture that does not pollute the land, air and water by using harmful pesticides. However, as seen in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, large organic farms like Earthbound still have to send their vegetables through a factory system to pack them, and then ship the product all over the country, emitting pollutants along the way (Pollan, 166). Taking this step of buying organically is only slightly more sustainable I would say than being a normal vegetarian - however, an organic diet is worlds healthier. In Our Daily Bread, a documentary about industrial food in Germany, workers are shown in hazmat suits, spraying chemicals over every inch of the rows of vegetables grown inside a climactically controlled greenhouse. By choosing the organic product, the consumer is avoiding exposure to these chemicals (both for himself and for the workers), which in the long term can contribute to the development of cancer and other health problems.

Becoming a vegetarian and deciding to buy organic are steps that are easily taken in most developed areas. This is assuming a grocery store that offers organic products is available. I know even my local Kroger offers the Kroger-brand organic version of many products, so I hope I am right in assuming that organic products are available in a large part of the US. I would venture to guess that the availability of a variety of local goods is much less common. Besides in some select places in the US, deciding to buy local is probably not going to mean a complete overhaul of a normal diet – it’s likely this option won’t even be available. Buying local food depends a lot on climate and growing season. Some places in the US are not suited for agriculture, so finding a local farm could be literally impossible. A search for registered farmers’ markets on came up with a listing of 4,584 in the entire US. Most of these are concentrated in the northeast, and in pockets on the coast of California. It looks like if you’re living in the middle of Utah, you’re out of luck when it comes to finding locally grown food. If local items are available though, purchasing these will definitely increase sustainability simply by cutting the emissions from transportation. Additionally, local food is generally grown on smaller farms, which tend to require less energy input from non-renewable sources such as oil and coal. Buying local products will more often than not also be healthier. The nutrient density of fruits and vegetables decreases with each day it has been picked off the plant. If you buy your food locally, you are probably getting it sooner and thus getting the maximum nutrients out of it.

After that lengthy explanation, my point is that my vegetarian diet over the week was probably more healthy for me than sustainable for the planet. However, it was far more sustainable than a typical American diet. Basically, what I tried to do throughout the week was work up through the tiers of local, organic, vegetarian. I went to the farmers’ market at the beginning of the week and got as many local products as I could, which consisted of various vegetables, apples, eggs, and bread. I then filled in with organics, getting the rest of my vegetables and snack foods from this category. When I couldn’t find (or couldn’t afford) local or organic, I just stuck with vegetarian items, such as cheese, juice, and bananas.

As far as emissions from transportation, I think I did great. I drove to Harris Teeter at the beginning of the week, and then the rest of my meals were accessed by walking or taking the trolley. That is, until I drove the 2 hours home to Roanoke….but the purpose of that wasn’t to pick up food, so I don’t think I need to factor it in. The one benefit of being in college is the ability to walk or take public transportation to almost everywhere you need to go – I could have even walked to the grocery store if I had felt so motivated.

Cost wise, my diet was no more expensive than buying a meal plan – actually, it was cheaper. A meal plan that offers enough to cover all a students dietary needs is $1890 for the semester, that’s $118.13 per week. For a week’s worth of food from the grocery store, I spend $50-$80. And food that I buy in a week usually carries over into the next week. Even factoring in $10-$20 spent on meals out each week, my vegetarian-organic-local hybrid diet is cheaper than getting a UVA meal plan. Obviously there was a bit more effort involved, but I think this proves that for the average student, cost should not be an excuse to eat unsustainably.

My week of eating sustainably not only made me feel better, both physically and mentally, but it was affordable and helped out the environment a bit too. I hope that any student interested in changing his eating habits can use this as one example of how to approach that goal. I know that I will continue refining and redesigning my diet as I gain more knowledge about the topic of the foodshed and sustainable agriculture in general.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Revolutionary Soup Trip

Last night our group went to Revolutionary Soup to try our luck at being able to meet each of our requirements at the same time at the same restaurant. The video posted earlier documented our trip. As stated in the video, I was able to get a large soup with a side of cornbread and water to drink. The soup was advertised as vegetarian and gluten free. Again, this didn't really make up what I would call a full meal. I am beginning to realize that unless I go directly to the farmers market, (which I will most certainly do this weekend) I am probably not going to be able to find many if any full meals for under $6 that are reasonably sustainable. First of all, local and organic food is going to be considerably more expensive than the processed alternatives. Also, I am not exactly a small guy. At 6'2" and about 200 pounds, I am considerably larger than the average male and most certainly larger than the average female, so it is safe to say that I probably eat more than the average person in general. I might just be fighting a loosing battle. Sustainable living is not something that can be maintained by someone on a tight budget, and you aren't going to find many sustainable grocery stores or restaurants in poorer neighborhoods. Highlighting this fact, my mother recently told me about a local farmer co-op in Houston. I checked out the website and found out that the Tuesday drop off location is in the parking lot of the Royal Oaks Country Club. A membership at this country club goes for only about $100,000. I recognize that this is an extreme example, but I feel that this is a common trend in America. The current socio-economic climate reserves sustainable living for those with the monetary means to do so. However, this will not diminish my motivation to search out cheap sustainable food.


I have decided that simply eating cheap meals really doesn’t add much to the discussion of eating sustainably at UVa unless I make a serious effort to seek out local and organic meals. This will most certainly be more difficult than simply eating sustainably without a budget. Hopefully I will be able to shed some light on how feasible this actually is for a student here at UVa.
This past Saturday, I happened to go hiking near Crozet, and I found the MudHouse Coffee Shop and bakery. I knew nothing about the place before walking in, but I quickly found that this shop would be a great place to get a cheap and sustainable meal. Behind the counter on the wall, a sign stated, “Single Origin Brew Bar – these extrodinary coffees are sustainably grown in small lots by artisan farmers. Like fresh produce, they are best enjoyed in season and are in limited supply.” There was another sign stating, “All of our fresh food and baked goods are homemade right here with local seasonal ingredients whenever possible. We are committed to using packaging made from corn, bamboo or other eco-happy materials.” They even had chairs made of bales of hay. Not only was this establishment about as sustainable as they get, but it was even relatively cheap. For under $6, I was able to get a large coffee, a banana, and a huge blueberry muffin. While I recognize that this is certainly not a full meal, I feel that it is definitely a step in the right direction.
I understand that this shop is located in Crozet (about 20 minutes away from grounds), but I know a many UVa students who frequent the area for a number of reasons including a number of outdoor activities. Even though this was a great find, I don’t think that I will just happen upon many more establishments like this one.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Group Trip to Illustrate Sustainable Diets at UVA

The four of us travelled to Revolutionary Soup where we all bought products that dealt with our individual sustainable diets. The editing of the video took me a few hours longer then I had hoped.

Feel free to comment

- Michael

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Today’s purpose was to see what options a UVA student has within Charlottesville- limiting the restaurants/markets to a thirty minute walking radius from Lambeth Dorms.

Charlottesville is farther ahead with organic options than are the UVA Dining Halls. There are plenty of sufficient options for keeping an organic diet nearby central grounds. That is not to say that all of these options are inexpensive- but certainly if one wanted to go organic, it is possible in the city of Charlottesville. Below are various organic options around Lambeth Dorms.

Rebecca’s Natural Food is just a 10-12 minute walk from Lambeth and it serves a wide range of both organic and local products.

Three (which is actually on the Corner) has several organic products on their menu.

Java Java, a coffee shop that is only fifteen minutes away, serves several organic products. The store prides itself on its free trade coffee beans.

Integral Yoga Natural Foods is about a twenty minute walk- but offers many organic products. They always have organic produce (according to its website). The market works to serve the greater community of Charlottesville through different philanthropic projects. They donated more than $200 in the first six months of 2009. They also consistently donate to various food banks in the region.

Food Of All Nations is just a short walk from Lambeth and offers a variety of both local and organic food. Much of their products come from Polyface Farms.

Chipotle actually usually pork from Polyface farms- they incorporate both local and organic concepts into their product. If pork is your style, then it’s just a short walk down Route 29 to get an organic product from one of the biggest chains in the United States. Although I am a Qdoba fan- props go out to Chipotle for its local/organic program. Since Chipotle does not heavily advertise that the pork is local, maybe the corporation is actually concerned about helping the local economies around each of their select Chipotles. Makes you wonder where Qdoba’s interests are in serving the area in which they have chains.
An article on the organic/local pork at Chipotle

A really good option I did not previously know about is the Ivy Inn. The Ivy Inn prides itself on buying fresh and local (and some organic). It also uses products from PolyFace Farms (good old Joe Salatin). It also is not a far walk from Lambeth, somewhere between fifteen to twenty minutes.

As many people know, there is the organic powerhouse- Harris Teeter just down the street from Lambeth. Certainly, if one was to go organic, Harris Teeter would be one of the most realistic options to stock up on food. Of course their prices are not always ideal, but this comes with trying to go organic- it isn’t a cheap diet.

Smoothie King offers some Organic products and so does Panera. Panera actually prides itself on humane treatment of animals (which culturally is a major appeal for some customers). Their chickens are supposedly all natural and antibiotic free.

These are certainly not all the options within around Lambeth Dorms- but it just goes to show that there are plenty of resources within Charlottesville if one wants to have an organic diet. But there are several major factors with play into the feasibility of these restaurants/markets.

One is financial restrictions (as previously discussed). I travelled to both Whole Foods (which isn’t walking distance) and Harris Teeter, and I personally cannot afford to eat their products on a habitual basis. It is just too expensive for the average college student. Another major factor is convenience. Yes, there are plenty of organic options available- but do I really want to walk twenty minutes to get a meal. Being a student at UVA without a car with me on campus- how am I supposed to transport large amounts of groceries? Surely I could make several trips back and forth to Harris Teeter, but how much time and walking would that take up? Convenience is arguably the most important factor for most students when considering an organic diet and probably the one that prevents them from accomplishing it. The last major factor is dietary restrictions. Let’s say you’re going to one of the restaurants listed- Ivy Inn for example. You take a look at the menu and see that they have organic beef from Polyface Farms (hypothetically). What if you don’t like beef or you’re a vegetarian? If there are options on the menu that you do like but they aren’t organic- your options are limited. I for example would love eat organic products when going to Chipotle but since I do need pork due to dietary restrictions, I have no other organic options. Do I starve or do I pick another option that isn’t organic? Dietary restrictions are very important (and they are similar to that of convenience) because if you don’t want to eat the organic product available, that then the fact that the product is organic isn’t a good enough motive to buy it.

Money, Convenience, and Options- these three make or break ones desire to eat organic products. My conclusion from today’s experience- going organic is feasible but not easy. Charlottesville is an ideal city to start an organic diet in. Polyface Farms is one of the most well-known organic farms in the country and a lot of their products come to vendors in Charlottesville. Organic food is here- you just have to know where to go.

Five days of trying to go organic. My first day started off very unfortunate- seeing how the Dining Halls have very few options for an organic diet. But now, after seeing all the options within a thirty minute walking radius of where I live, I’m optimistic that going organic is possible. One must consider the three options above, but if the difficulties are understood and dealt with, it is completely feasible to eat organically in Charlottesville. Although, having a dining meal plan will not help the situation at all.

From here on I will focus on more options for eating organic on the UVA campus and making organic food more of a necessity in the dining halls. I think it is ridiculous that Newcomb (Dining Hall) has NO organic products. O’Hill (another nicer Dining Hall) is lacking but certainly has the initiative, and Runk Dining Hall is doing alright, but seriously Newcomb- Nothing? Did I talk to the wrong executive chef? Anyways, that certainly should be focused on.

Over the next few weeks I will focus on answering previously unanswered questions and seeing what other restrictions come into play when trying to eat organic on campus.

- Michael

Saturday, November 7, 2009

DAY 5: Issues of Practicality

After this week, I feel like being a vegetarian and trying to eat sustainably is definitely a possibility for a UVA student. However, I didn’t eat on grounds at all this week (I don’t have a meal plan). Next week I will try to get someone to swipe me into the dining hall and see how that goes. As a student, you are only buying food for one, so splurging a little bit on a local or organic item is feasible. I came home this weekend and went out to lunch with my mom at the Happy Belly Deli, one of our favorite places. It’s located in the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-Op, so all the food is really fresh and they use local and organic ingredients. We got quesadillas, and each one was about $6. With drinks, the meal was $18, but since we only had to worry about the two of us, that wasn’t a big deal. I think it could get more difficult as a Charlottesville resident trying to feed a family with a couple of kids. Taking them out to Revolutionary Soup could get pretty expensive. And you definitely couldn’t get them organic granola at $4 and up a box. Reading the other guys’ posts, I also think it would be less practical to feed a growing boy solely with sustainable vegetarian food. They would need a lot of it to really be full.

What I have gotten from our class, and from my personal experience, is that individuals have to work out a food buying system that works for them personally based on their unique situations in life. There really is no blanket solution, that everyone should buy everything organically, or that we can all buy all of our vegetables locally. Each person’s diet has to start out as an experiment where you try different things and then slowly develop a realistic system. For me, being vegetarian works. I don’t miss eating meat and I feel better when I keep meat out of my diet. However, being vegan definitely does not work – I am not willing to cut eggs and milk products out of my diet. For someone else, that could be an easy sacrifice to make.

The difficulty of developing a sustainable diet is that it takes a lot of work. You have to be willing to do outside research into what all of these labels – organic, sustainable, no GMOs, etc. – mean and then develop a personal position as to which ones you think are most important. When you go to the grocery store, you can’t just pick up the cheapest thing of milk. You have to read the labels, and decide which organic brand you want, or if you’d rather choose the one with “cows not treated with rBGH” or if you want to pick the milk in the plastic bottle over the carton since the bottle is recyclable but the other is not. Personally, I have worked out which milk is best for me, but juice is a completely different story. Here’s the one I ended up choosing most recently:

But every time I go to buy juice I end up standing there for at least five minutes, wrestling with my mental struggle of whether it’s worth it to pay $5 for the organic juice, and trying to make sure I don’t end up with some gross juice cocktail on accident. And to get the products you want, sometimes you have to go to a specialty grocery store; Food Lion is definitely not going to provide many sustainable options. Additionally, when you go out to eat, or order food with a group, you have to decide whether you’re going to skew your standards or tell everyone that you have to order at least one pizza without meat. This is something really hard for me being in college. If someone invites me over for dinner, I often feel bad requesting that they make it vegetarian. And then once I get there, and they offer me soda with high fructose corn syrup, and sugar-free Jello that has God-knows-what in it, do I turn it down and be rude? Or eat it and accept their hospitality even though it’s against the food standards I have set up for myself? It’s a struggle that I still haven’t found a great solution to.

Personally, I feel that this extra investment is worth it though. I feel better mentally knowing that I am doing what I can to work against climate change by making sustainable food options, and that I am supporting my community when I buy locally. It also makes me feel better physically when I avoid processed foods and eat things with ingredients that I can pronounce. Really, I can literally tell a major difference in how I feel from last semester when I ate at Newcomb several times a week compared to this semester when I have avoided Newcomb like the plague.

Even though our project was only a week, I’ll keep updating the blog when I come across something noteworthy in the sustainable vegetarian department.

-Elizabeth, the vegetarian dieter

Friday, November 6, 2009

Eating Local: Day 5

On my last day of eating sustainable, I didn’t get to eat in any new places, but I tried asking around many different places to see if they served local food. I first went to the Pavilion, but no knew whether the food that they served was local. My experience with Newcomb was similar to Michaels, with no one really sure about what constituted as local food and whether or not they served it. Since I didn’t have a meal plan, I decided not to go into Runk, but I found out that they served local fruit and tried to make at least one Local meal a week. I think Newcomb should implement some of the practices that the other Dining halls have, especially in terms of sustainable eating.
For food today, I had locally raised beef that I had made the night before. I also had this with bread that was made by Albermarle Baking Company that I had found and gotten at Whole Foods. The picture of this beef is shown above. Since this is the end of my school week eating only local food, I have come to the conclusion that eating local food in the Charlottesville area is a definite possibility for students, even those on a low budget. Even with the meat and bread that I had today, the meal probably averaged to $6-7 per meal. Furthermore, even if eggs are the only local product that you buy, you can get cartons for around $3-5.
With all the food that I bought and ate this week, I found that it was probably the most sustainable food that I have ever had. All of my food came from within 100 miles, versus food that oculd be shipped in from California and from abroad. Though my meals may have cost 1-2$ extra, I think that in the long run, in terms of health and environmental sustainability, it will be worth it. I will still be updating my blog on the local food that I eat, though I may not eat local food for every meal. One change that I hope to implement with my peers along with myself is trying to eat at Revolutionary Soup more often. Instead of eating non local food that may not be as healthy at other restaurants, I can eat healthy food made from local products at Revolutionary Soup. Hopefully, I will have a less expensive diet compared to this week, but still a healthy and sustainable diet.

eating on the cheap- day 2

No breakfast for me today, but thank goodness for hot pockets. I had forgotten just how terrible they are. I didn’t know if I had eaten that disgusting thing or rubbed it all over my face. No more hot pockets. I hadn’t made very good use of my last trip to the grocery store, and I was in a serious time pinch to find something to eat for dinner. I decided to give the dollar menu at McDonalds a try. I got two McDoubles and an order of medium fries with water of course. First of all, this meal was hardly filling. Also, there is nothing even remotely sustainable about McDonalds. Not only is McDonalds just about the most processed food you can find, but the amount of packaging is appalling. By time I was done with my meal, I was left with a good amount of trash to be thrown away. I am beginning to see how difficult it would be for someone living on a tight budget to even come close to eating sustainably.

Eating Local: Day 4

As a recap of my experiences all week, I’ve come to the conclusion that eating local is definitely feasible for a UVA student, but maybe not convenient nor cheap for every meal. However, there are a variety different places that one can find that serve local food, and a few that don’t even advertise the local food that they have. I have also found that its definitely possible to have a majority of your food be local, and still live relatively cheaply.
Since I was pretty busy today, I didn’t get the chance to try very many new things. After skipping breakfast, I went back to Revolutionary Soup during lunch and got the chili again. The picture is shown below. I also got the chance to look at the menu board and see the different offerings they had. Though not all of their meals are local, they definitely make an effort to use all of the local produce they get, which shows a sign of sustainable living.

For dinner today, I decided to eat health and had a simple salad with apples and eggs. For something without dressing, it was surprisingly good. Although I was definitely not a fan of the hydroponic lettuce, it was bearable for something local. Overall it was a quick meal to make, which is a definite plus for college students. So far this week, I have only had to make one meal that took over an hour to cook, and that was the steak on Tuesday. For tomorrow I am planning on making a trip to Runk(a Dining hall in UVA) to see if they have any local food that I could eat. I will also be going to the Farmers Market on Saturday to see how their prices compare with those of Whole Foods.

DAY 4: A Sustainable Vegetarian?

So I’ve been questioning the sustainability of veggies vs. meat all week and today I finally got some concrete data! I’ll start with my diet for the day though, because it’s quite different than the other days.

College, I would say, is quite an unhealthy thing to do. It’s a good thing we go through it in the prime of life, or I don’t know if everyone would survive. During college, basic necessities of life are often pushed to the backburner for one of two reasons: socializing or homework. Sleeping, eating, and bathing all become second priorities, and often you have to choose maybe one or two out of the three. For me, homework won today. Sleeping and eating (I did bathe) were something I would get to do if I was lucky. I woke up after not enough sleep, finished an assignment due at 12:30, and then raced off to STS class, my Odwalla Berries GoMega beverage in hand. It’s not that I wasn’t going to eat today, just that eating a proper diet (something that’s usually relatively high on my agenda) was not as important. I did manage to stick to my vegetarian diet, however, vegan would have been very difficult. The fact that I ran out the door without eating breakfast was really weird for me – I literally never do that. Thankfully I had the Odwalla smoothie on hand – easy to take on the go. And a second blessing that it was made with organic fruits, lacking GMOs, and packed with Omega-3s and flaxseed!.....(that was sarcasm just there if you didn’t catch it). Sustainable? Probably not. All that fruit had to be mashed and pureed in some factory and then pumped with healthy additives. As we just talked about in class, though, the packaging is packed (although not as much as Honest Tea) with symbols suggesting the healthiness and myriad connections to nature this drink has. Check out their website: Did you see the happy flowers and butterflies dancing across the screen in the opening segment?

The rest of my diet today consisted of things I could throw together quickly – an almond butter/banana sandwich, for brunch I guess it would be?, a cheese sandwich at afternoon tea (eating times often get a bit skewed in college as well) and yogurt and granola for dinner. Basically when I don’t have time I just end up eating a lot of carbs, which until today I assumed was just as sustainable as eating vegetables. Good thing I stayed awake and made it to class. In Building and Climate, we talked about a book written by this architect Behnisch (who’s actually coming to give a lecture next week – should be pretty cool), entitled Ecology, Design, Synergy. The book opens with an energy consumption timeline, beginning with Limits to Growth in 1972 and going through the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. It goes on to provide a list of “fun facts” basically about how we’re destroying the planet. Two that I noted were as follows:
1. To transport 1lb of asparagus from Chile to NY takes 1.5lbs of fossil fuel energy and releases 4.2lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
2. To raise...1kg beef – 300m2 of land, 1kg bread or rice - 17m2, 1 kg veggies – 6m2
Looking at it now, I wonder if he got the first data point from Pollan, or if that’s just an odd coincidence that they both thought about imported asparagus? Anyway, the point is that whether or not that asparagus is organic, it is releasing pollutants into the atmosphere which are probably based largely on the long transport, thus rendering it less sustainable (or at least worse for the climate) than buying local asparagus from the farmer’s market. Additionally, the increased amount of land needed to produce bread vs. an equivalent amount of vegetables makes me feel that the vegetables would then be more sustainable. How does that follow? Well, the more land area you need to produce one unit of food means that you can produce less total units (assuming you have a fixed amount of land), and as we are currently in a global food crisis, we need to produce the greatest amount of food on the least amount of land. Or if you increase the land area to produce more units that means you are increasing the amount of watering, fertilizing, etc. needed to care for that land, and thus increasing emissions (bad for climate change). Now, I am certainly not suggesting that we should all only eat vegetables, and cut meat and bread out of our diets because they take more land and resources to grow. I guess I just think it’s important to be aware of this data, so that if you are actually concerned about the “greenness” of your diet, you know where you can make some changes that are actually helpful to the planet. And I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt me at all to eat a few more vegetables and a few less slices of bread.

But, you still have to be careful even about vegetables. Reading Chapter 9 about Industrial Organic farms if The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I found this interesting piece of data: Producing one box of organic salad uses 4600 calories of fossil fuel energy, and provides only 80 calories of food energy (that’s 57 cals of fossil fuel energy per every food cal) (Pollan, 167). I’m not really clear how fossil fuel calories compare to food calories, but basically that doesn’t sound good.

So going vegetarian we now know is a good start to implementing a diet that’s better for the planet, but when do you buy organic? Local? Conventional? That I am still not sure of.

-Elizabeth, the vegetarian dieter

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Today’s goal was to find restaurants within the typical borders of UVA (i.e. the Corner and 14st street) that serve organic food. It was also to incorporate both dining hall food and on-grounds food products.

Today was met with a great deal of disappointment when it came to finding organic food- except for one major exception... My first goal of the day was to figure out what this “organic” meal was at Newcomb Dining Hall which a student could order. I approached the same supervisor as I had spoken with on Monday, and asked if it was possible to try the organic meal which she had previously told me about. I wasn’t sure what to expect- I imagined it either being some kind of delicacy or something more gross then the typical Newcomb options. The supervisor tells me to wait a minute while she gets a chef from the backroom. Well it wasn’t any chef that strolled out, but the executive chef of all of Newcomb who came to speak with me. I repeated the same question, “Is it possible to get an organic meal?” His response was simply, “Well, you should go to Runk- they have organic food there.” Huh, that’s strange; I was told organic food was an option at Newcomb. I asked him, “So you’re saying there are no organic options at Newcomb.” He responded, “No no we have no organic food here- Runk is the place to go. There are lots of options at Runk.”
Well I heard it from the executive chef- Newcomb was certainly out when it came to eating organic. That’s a blow whereas Newcomb is the most convenient for UVA students being on central grounds- and I learned there are no organic options available.

UVA Dining is certainly lacking with its organic products. Newcomb had zero organic products (at least that I know of). O’Hill has minimal products which constitute a small fraction of the overall food. Runk is doing better, but the only thing completely organic at Runk is their salad bar. In terms of the other food, it is ambigious to what was organic and to what was just healthy. Since nothing else had an organic advertisement, I think the majority of Runk’s organic products lie at its salad bar. So there you go – a modern campus with few modern options of eating sustainably. If you survive on a meal plan and want to eat organic, you may as well give up or just rely on Runk’s salads all day.

I did hear an interesting claim though. Supposedly the soup in the Alderman café is organic- that is another claim I will have to see tomorrow. Whereas Clark and Wilsdorf had virtually no organic items- I’d be surprised if Alderman has anything, but it’s worth a shot figuring out.

After Newcomb, I walked down to The Corner to see what organic options were available. I didn’t know where to start. I though College Inn was a good option- a relatively inexpensive restaurant where a good number of UVA students eat. But, no organic food. Then I tried Qdoba. Since Chipotle uses some organic products I assumed Qdoba may use some as well. They’re vegetables cost extra, so who knows, they could be local or organic. I walked up to glass screen, “Are there any organic products here at Qdoba?” The employee gives me a nod, “We don’t have any organic products here.” I’m fairly sure the guy I talked to is the manager (he wore a different shirt and I’ve seen him there before). Regardless I’ll talk his word for it, I guess Qdoba is out as well. After I found out Qdoba wasn’t an option, I skipped my next destination, Little Johns, because it seemed extremely unlikely that they had organic food. Still the question must be asked in time. But the next place I went to lifted my expectations- It’s called Revolutionary Soup (Avik mentioned it in the post below).

Basically, it’s the most organic non-UVA affiliated restaurant one will find on the Corner/14st street. Their beef and chicken are grass fed from Polyface farms (Joel Salatin?) The lady at the register said the products which are organic change on a day-to-day basis, but she said at least 30% of the products there are organic. They serve primarily soups (the name of the restaurant) but there is wide variety of other options. I came there with my friend who couldn’t stop talking about how great the soups are there and how they are one of the best organic options around UVA. Certainly, their prices are not completely ideal, but on the other hand they aren’t ridiculous either. Feel free to check out the menu above- I definitely recommend the restaurant.

Well my conclusion is the same as that of yesterday, if you want to go organic at UVA- you can do it but it will be pretty difficult, especially if you rely on a dining plan. So far I have found two great options for eating organic on or near campus- The Fine Arts Café and Revolutionary Soup. And why not give Runk a chance if its convenient. Yes, convenience does play a large role into this picture. How far will one go out of their way to eat organic food? Now I know Newcomb has no organic products, but it is surely the most convenient. Which desire outweights the other? These are certainly personal decisions which must be answered. Along with that is the dent in one’s wallet- how much is he/she willing to spend? So far I have found prices a bit more expensive, but still reasonable. It all comes down to individual – what are his/her priorities with an organic diet and how much one is willing to spend.

Tomorrow I will cover Charlottesville altogether (focuses on walkable restaurants). I say a thirty minute radius of Lambeth Dorms is most reasonable. I personally would not walk more than thirty minutes to get better quality food, and I am sure this is a fairly consistent radius with UVA students (although some have a much smaller range). Tomorrow I will also work to answer past questions left unanswered.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Eating Local: Day 3

Today was a very exciting day since I discovered many new places that sold local food. Thanks to the local food brochure that Elizabeth showed me, I found a few nearby restaurants that tried to incorporate local food into their meals. So for lunch today, I went to a restaurant called Revolutionary Soup that was located on the Corner. Though I had passed this restaurant many times on my explorations of UVA, I had never been inside. To my surprise, it had the normal feel of a typical restaurant. The place had a warm atmosphere and the crowd that went in seemed to consist more older individuals and fellow students. I found most of the items on the list seemed to feature local and organic food, so this is someplace that maybe Michael should look at too. Since it is November, they did not have many meals that were made completely with local food. However, I found that the chili was made with local tomatoes and local beef. The bread that came with it was also made locally by the Albemarle Baking Company. I figured that I would probably not find a meal made with this much local food, even if there were one or two ingredients that were not completely local. The only thing that I had to complain about was the $ 4.50 price tag that came along for a small bowl of chili. But I figure that the nutritious value of the meal was probably worth it. Additionally, I can brag that I helped some farmer in Charlottesville, not just some place in Virginia.
Since the chili didn’t leave me completely full, I decided to check out the Fine Arts Café that I had heard so much about. This place had a completely opposite feel about it as compared to Revolutionary Soups. The place was mostly white with elegant chairs and tables to sit on. Over here, I also found a variety of different local foods, but at an even more expensive price. Just the burger came to be nearly $7! The service was also not nearly as warm nor fast as in Revolutionary Soup. It took some 15 minutes just to get my burger ready. I quickly decided that it was probably not worth coming back for dinner, even if the place was a local food haven. Having used up a lot of money for the day, I ate dinner back at my apartment, where I made the most of the leftover meat, apples, and salad that I had from the previous day. Unfortunately, another day has passed and I still haven’t uploaded any pictures. I’m sorry to say that my camera is still being flaky, though I will try to send the pictures on my cell phone and have my dad upload them. In any case, I should have them up by Friday.

DAY 3: Let's Go Vegan

After yesterday, I thought that just being vegetarian was almost too easy, so today I decided to try to eat a vegan diet. Breakfast started out well with a bagel and almond butter, but everything went downhill shortly after. Without thinking, I added a splash of milk to my morning coffee. Oops. Although it was from “cows not treated with rBGH,” milk definitely is out for the vegan diet. I guess if I had planned ahead I could have gotten soymilk.

I went out for lunch, which normally would have made eating vegan really hard. However, I kind of cheated and went to Revolutionary Soup, where they actually label everything as vegan or vegetarian, and they have a list of all the products sourced locally and what dishes they are in. That list on the wall is entitled "We Go Local!" and then each piece of paper is a different local food provider.

All of this was really cool, but definitely not typical. I tasted the vegan vegetable curry, but determined it was a bit too spicy for me to order a whole bowl. It was definitely delicious though. I ended up with a vegetarian meal of tomato soup, a corn muffin (probably containing milk or eggs I would assume?), and, everyone’s favorite, organic Honest Tea. This meal was very filling, but again, I think most Americans would have been unsatisfied by the lack of some thick, juicy meat floating in the soup.

Eating a vegan dinner also turned out easier than expected. We ordered Indian food from Milan for our IRC Council meeting. This restaurant also clearly labels on their menu what is vegan and vegetarian, so it was really easy to pick out a vegan item. Basically, you can’t go wrong with Indian – the food was amazing. I don’t know whether naan has milk or eggs in it though? I think the mango lassie definitely involved some sort of milk product.

Basically, I could have eaten vegan today with no problem at all. It seems that the option to be vegan is doable in Charlottesville because of the variety of restaurants available. However, I doubt this would be so easy in, say, Franklin County, Virginia. I think it also becomes easier when you make your own food. Someone who doesn’t have time to cook at home would quickly tire of eating at Rev Soup for lunch everyday, and even in Charlottesville I don’t know what variety of vegan options are available, for example, if you worked on the downtown mall. Christian’s would be out (cheese on all the pizza). You could do Tea Bazaar but that’s pretty expensive. I would assume many places offer salads, but they likely involve cheese or even meat, which you would have to request to be held off.

As far as sustainability, I think the greater sustainability of being vegan (vs. vegetarian) hinges on the fact that the milk products and eggs the vegetarian is eating are raised industrially. I don’t feel like raising a chicken and then taking its eggs harms the earth any more than growing a green pepper and then picking it off the plant (assuming these are both on traditional, small-scale, organic farms). I feel like mainly the reason people become vegan is not for environmental reasons, but for moral reasons regarding animal rights. I could be wrong though.

-Elizabeth, the vegetarian dieter


Today’s goal was to explore other on-grounds options for eating organic, in particular, places where plus dollars would be accepted.

Finally, I have found hope that eating organic may just be possible at the University of Virginia. It is called the Fine Arts Café, located at the Architecture school, and it seems to be the only glittering symbol of eating organic at UVA. But I must say, my day did not begin as optimistic.

My first destination was the Wilsdorf Café, located in the Engineering School vicinity. The café is very new, having been constructed only two or three years ago. It has a sleek modern design and would give anyone the impression of modernity (which would seem to encompass organic foods, part of the Green Movement). I didn’t expect everything to be organic- I knew a lot of their products are made elsewhere and just brought in the café. They also have a lot of processed food items I knew right away couldn’t be organic, but I assumed they would have to have something organic. When I asked the manager what organic products they had, she responded that they had nothing. “Nothing?” I asked. “None of the fruits or sandwiches have any organic components to them?” She nodded a “no” back to me. She did say that they used to carry “organic” bananas- whatever that meant. I didn’t know bananas were organic to central Virginia. The one thing she did say is their coffee is “free trade”, which although it isn’t organic, it is still a beneficial aspect of the product. But as a whole, Wilsdorf let me down.
It was the same story with the coffee shop in Clark. Everything they sold came from elsewhere (and many were the same products as in Wilsdorf). Once again, no organic products. I was let down by these two cafes, assuming at such a prestigious and modern university, surrounded by farms within a thirty mile radius, there had to be some organic/local food here at UVA.
I walked into the Pavilion in Newcomb, to see if there were any organic items available. Like a normal college student, I was interested in not spending money unless I had to, and nothing in there seemed to be organic. Pizza Hut was under no way organic, and neither was Chick-Fil-A. I could only assume the Sushi restaurant did not have any organic options. Yet Freshens was a possible candidate for being organic, and so was the sandwich bar, although my gut feeling says they aren’t organic as well. Regardless, those are two questions I need to determine in the coming days.

I left the Pavilion feeling pretty disheartened about my options. The main reason I believe there is nothing organic at the Pavilion is because they haven’t advertised it. When a restaurant or company uses an organic product- the price increases and the company advertises that it’s organic to get people to accept the price. Yet, I cannot make such straightforward assumptions about the food vendors at the Pavilion until I know for sure.

I took the bus back to my apartment, but then remembered there is a café at the Architecture School- I had never been to it but I had heard good things. As I walked in, I saw the holy grail of 'organicness' at UVA. “Grass-Fed Beef” – “No Pesticides” – “No added preservatives” – “All Organic”. Finally, there was some place of understanding for all those students trying eat organic at such a "modern" university. I took a look at the menu and was pleasantly surprised- there seemed to be a number of good tasting items. I saw a Black Bean Quesadilla which looked pretty appealing. Although the prices were higher here, the Quesadilla was only about $5, making not that big of a dent on my wallet (or Plus Dollars). I asked the lady working the register, “So everything here is organic?” She responded, “Yep, pretty much anything you can order.” Although there was packaged food- in regards to the menu the chefs cook for you, it’s a completly organic selection.

I received my Quesadilla and actually really enjoyed it. Regardless of my objective in this project, it was a great choice coming to this café (which is also very close to my apartment so it made it convenient). It took the hard work of a former UVA student to transform this café into an organic lover’s dream. Whether or not I continue an organic diet after this project, I will certainly return to that café very often.
Tomorrow, I will venture beyond on grounds dining facilities. My main focus is the Corner: What organic options are there? Does Little John have any organic ingredients- what about Qdoba? There has to be something organic on the Corner. So far, my conclusion of eating organic solely on ground dining facilities: Good Luck- it will be difficult but with restaurants like the Fine Arts Cafe, it is certainly possible. If you plan on eating at Newcomb or O'Hill everyday on a completly organic diet, then I will say it is impossible. Once one explores their options, more possibilities always arise.

- Michael

It is my goal to only eat meals that cost under $6. I have a meal plan through my fraternity, but I have decided to abandon this option for the simple fact that I would not be able to know exactly how much each of my meals cost. I know what we are supposed to be paying per meal, but seeing the grocery bills that our cook has racked up, I am positive she is running over budget in a big way. The first thought that came to my head when I learned which diet I would be studying was fast food. I am not a big fast food fan, but it seemed impossible to eat on such a budget without the occasional dollar menu item. I am even less of a fan of cooking, but I am sure I will have to be doing my fair share of cooking over the next few days. First stop, Harris Teeter. At Teeter, I bought:
Spicy Roll Sushi - $5.89
Dozen Born Free Cage Free Large Brown Eggs (Certified Humane) – $3.99
Whole Grain Chicken, Broccoli and Cheddar Lean Pockets - $3.99 for a pack of 3
Michael Angelo’s Vegetable Lasagna frozen dinner - $4.29
I also made my rounds to the various fast food places in barracks. The first rule of dining cheap at a fast food restaurant was quickly apparent. Don’t get a drink, or if you do, get the free water cup. A large soda is a quick way to burn through close to a third of you meal budget. But enough of this fast food business. I just bought a good amount of food.
My breakfast today consisted of 4 eggs scrambled with a pinch of shredded cheddar cheese found in the kitchen at my house. The fact that I even ate breakfast was surprising since I usually don’t. For lunch I had the sushi, and for dinner I had the lasagna.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Today my goal was to keep an organic diet with limited changes to my daily routine (i.e. going to different dining halls).

During lunch today, I went to O’Hill Dining Hall opposed to Newcomb where I typically go on weekdays. At first sight, O’Hill looks a lot nicer then Newcomb, and its food does too. I took a look around- there were plenty of healthy options today including a section just for healthy foods (and one for vegans also). Although the options were more visually appealing that didn’t mean they necessarily organic products. At first, there was no way to tell what was organic or not. Like yesterday, I consumed a primarily vegetarian meal of food products that seemed somewhat fresh and healthy. Yet, as I was leaving I asked one of O’Hill personnel if she knew which food was considered organic. Although she had no idea, she brought me to one of the managers of O’Hill. He courteously told me about the financial restrictions to make all products organic, but he did say there are a fair number of items that are organic day to day. He knew for sure that the lettuce for the salad bar is organic. With his permission, I went into the freezer at O’Hill where he showed me the lettuce and the company it came from. One brand name I saw was “Taylor Farm”, which comes from (at least its headquarters are around) Salinas, California. Coming from all the way across the country doesn’t fit the organic concept in my eyes, but regardless it was guaranteed fresh without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. Still, it was being kept away and frozen in the back of O’Hill. I asked what organic certification it had. The manager said that because the lettuce was sent it bulk they did not show its certification (which made me question if it has certification whatsoever). But due to the manager’s openness with this project and his honesty with the “organic” products- I will take his word in that the lettuce is organically certified although it comes from the other side of the country.
The manager mentioned that a large number of their organic products come from Wolf Creek Farm in Ararat, Virginia- which is actually local. I didn’t get to see which products come from this farm, but I could only assume if they are local and organic, they are probably in better shape than the lettuce that came from California.
Yet despite my reaction towards what O’Hill calls “organic”, it is certainly an improvement from Newcomb’s Dining Hall. Yet in Newcomb, I was told that I could ask for an organic meal, whereas that was not an option in O’Hill. I will find sometime this week, what exactly this organic meal is. The fact alone that the manager brought a student asking about organic products and sustainability into the freezer of O’Hill makes me feel as if they have nothing to be ashamed in, and they may even be proud of their organic products. I will say that although the rest of O’Hill’s products which are not organic may not be as fresh as a product that is locally and sustainably produced, they sure have a higher quality then Newcomb’s food (generally speaking).

First I went to Newcomb and saw next to nothing in regards to organic. Then I went to O’Hill where I found some but not many options. For dinner, I went to Runk Dining Hall, where I was very pleased with the results.
When I went to Newcomb, I was not allowed to film. In Runk they welcomed me taking pictures and filming the products. One of the chefs even jumped in a picture of some of the food for me. Before coming there I had heard that Runk had an “Organic Salad Bar”. My hopes were not let down- there salad bar claimed to be completely organic (including all of the salad dressings). Everything in the salad bar looked extremely fresh (and tasted delicious). The individuals who work at Runk maintain the salad bar very well, and I certainly believe it has paid off.
I asked one of the managers about what other products are Runk were organic. She pointed at half of the stations- making me question her understanding of the word organic. She claimed for sure that the “healthy station” used all organic food (assuming we were on the same page about the meaning of organic). Regardless if it was organic or not, the food at Runk definitely outweighed that of Newcomb and O’Hill. That being said maybe there is a trend- the more organic food I dining hall has, the better its overall food becomes? But one must consider the influx of students to each of these Dining Halls. Newcomb most likely receives the most at one time, being on Central Grounds, then comes O’Hill by first year living, and finally Runk which is far away by Hereford Dorms and Gooch & Dillard Second Year Housing. Does this mean that organic (or even good tasting food) can only be presented to a small number of people. If I assert that Newcomb had the least enjoyable and least organic options, but had the greatest student inflow, where Runk had the best tasting and most organic food, with the lesser student inflow, then there must certainly be a trend.

I still have questions which will be answered in future posts this week. Yet the point of today was to continue my normal schedule but to make minor adjustments. Although Newcomb is more convenient, I ventured to O’Hill and then Runk for dinner (which is very far out of the way). It just goes to show that if you want organic, you certainly have to make sacrifices and to go the extra yard to get it. So far, even with all three dining halls- it is still impossible to be nutritionally set and organic at the University of Virginia if you rely on a meal plan. Tomorrow I will concentrate on other options here at the University and what organic products one can by. There are numerous cafes and coffee shops which offer food products around campus, and some of which must offer organic products. That is for tomorrow and we will see if this concept of becoming “completely organic” becomes any easier.

Day 2: Eating Local

Today was not as bad nor as exciting as yesterday in terms of eating local meals. For lunch today, I took three hard boiled eggs and an apple to class. Unfortunately, I did not have time in between classes to go the Fine Arts Café, where I should hopefully find another source of local food. From what Elizabeth and Michael tell me, it sounds like a local food haven. In the meantime, I checked out the Pavilion to see if they had any products made with just local food. Unfortunately, most of the staff did not understand what I meant by “local food” and I decided not to take any risks eating their products if they were not locally produced. Overall, I didn’t have too much a problem in eating local food, although I am getting tired of eating eggs and apples. For a change in dinner tonight, I made steak that was raised locally in Virginia. I also ate salad with dressing from Virginia and lettuce picked at a farm nearby. I also found out that as expected, none of the convenience stores in the area carry locally made products (big surprise there).
Since my camera is still not working and I can’t load pictures from my cell phone onto the computer, I will have to wait another day to load up pictures of my meals. Tomorrow I am planning another trip to Whole Foods and Harris Teeter to see if I can find more of a variety of local food items. So far, the problem hasn’t been in finding local food, but rather finding a variety of different foods that I won’t get sick of. It seems as though I have become too reliant on the convenience of grocery stores just providing whatever food I want. However, this lack of variety in local food is something that was discussed in our STS class today. We also discussed if there was a middle ground solution to eating purely local foods or eating imported food. Hopefully through this project I can find some sort of a balance or compromise, at least in my daily diet. I might also want to carry this experiment over into the next week in terms of finding a viable economic balance between local goods and a convenient diet. Sorry for the short and boring post today, hopefully I will have some more exciting experiences tomorrow.
P.S. Here is a link to a new article about group trying to make local food more accessible. I find these movements and efforts interesting, especially since they might be able to help with my project.

DAY 2: the Great Meat Exchange

What I ate:
Local items
-Carter’s mountain apple
-Bodo’s bagel
-Farmer’s market tomato
-Midlothian wheat bread
Organic items
-tortilla chips

At breakfast I had yogurt and granola with fruit, very easy to keep vegetarian. As an omnivore, the sandwich I brought for lunch might have been quite different. To keep it vegetarian I stuck with cheese and hummus. For dinner I decided to try to make a vegan meal – steamed vegetables with rice and flat bread.

Considering my lack of cooking skills, it turned out fairly boring (the organic carrots were very flavorful though). I think a typical American citizen would not have been satisfied with this meal, which was completely lacking in protein. It probably would have been more exciting had I dumped cheese on top, but that would have rendered it non-vegan. Oh well.

Yesterday, an article entitled “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” conveniently appeared on It explains that the un-sustainability of industrial meat lies primarily in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during its production. Apparently it all starts with the soybean that goes into the cow’s feed. Most of this soy comes from Brazil, and is grown on land that used to be tropical rainforest (something that I didn’t know). Besides the climatic factors of destroying a pristine natural habitat, the soybean then has to be shipped globally, emitting pollutants in the process. The industrial farms themselves use up tons of energy just in day-to-day operation (lighting, heating and cooling). Additionally, the manure (in liquefied ponds – gross) produced by the cows emits ridiculous amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. However, this excessive methane emission is mostly tied to the improper diet the cows are fed. The actual topic of the article was to explain why eating locally and sustainably raised meat isn’t actually bad for the environment (a point I agree with) but it did a good job explaining why industrial meat is not sustainable in the process.

So looking back over my food consumption, I question how “sustainable” my diet is. It’s certainly more sustainable than an omnivore’s diet, but could I do better? I especially question the sustainability of the organic granola and tortilla chips, as they still had to be processed and then shipped across the country to get to me. They are probably more healthy (since I am avoiding exposure to excessive amounts of pollutants), but I doubt they are much more sustainable. I can think of two solutions: one, knock out all processed food or two, find locally processed goods. I know you can get Route 11 chips (which are local) from the Fine Arts Café. And you can definitely get local granola, but it is stupidly expensive.

All in all, eating vegetarian has not been hard. You just have to change your expectations for what a meal constitutes. And when you cut out meat, that means you can have more of everything else, which could be a plus. So maybe it’s not “giving up” meat, but rather “exchanging” it for something else.

-Elizabeth, the vegetarian dieter

Niman, Nicolette Hahn. "The Carnivore's Dilemma." The New York Times. Retrieved on 3 November 2009 from The New York Times website: