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.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, interesting project! As college students with limited budgets, it's *got* to be a challenge. In addition to being more healthy, organic (i.e., natural) food simply tastes better - but it certainly comes at a premium.

    You mention Revolutionary Soup as a customer of Polyface Farms. Joel Salatin was one of the most enjoyable parts of Food, Inc., if you remember. I think Chipolte is also a customer/advocate of theirs.

    Good luck on this project, folks. I'll look forward to watching your progress.