Getting Students to Understand the Root of Sustainable Food Preparation

By Molly Theobald

This is the first in a two part blog series about the Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) “greening initiatives,” which are designed to teach young chefs about sustainable food production and consumption.

For Stephan Hengst, Marketing Director for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the relationship between agriculture, the environment, and chefs is a natural one. “It became really clear early on that chefs and their purchasing decisions had a profound effect on agriculture,” he said. And chefs can benefit greatly from local farmers as well. “Chefs always want the best and most interesting ingredients and by building relationships with growers chefs can get exactly what they want in the kitchen and farmers are guaranteed a market for their produce.”

Students at CIA are learning about the benefits of purchasing fresh produce from local farmers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

CIA helps students understand the importance of purchasing fresh produce from local farmers whenever possible. One of the Institute’s four campuses is located in Hyde Park, New York, just 90 miles north of New York City, and is surrounded by farmland. “Farmers were coming to the campus and showing us these great, locally grown products,” continued Hengst. “We realized that we were just surrounded by these incredible resources.”

The other campuses are located in St. Helena, California; San Antonio, Texas; and Singapore. Each year CIA purchases close to $1 million dollars worth of local food to use in the classroom and in its public restaurants. The CIA’s California campus grows much of the food it uses in a student-run farm and students are raising 60,000 bees behind the recreational center. The campus is also using recycled oil to fuel campus vans and a utility vehicle. The Hyde Park campus no longer uses traditional detergents to wash the countless dishes coming out of their 41 kitchens and bakeshops.  They now use electrolyzing cleaning system that turns salted tap water into chemical free cleaning solutions. In addition to an aggressive on campus recycling campaign, the Institute is also teaching students about compost and how to put today’s food waste towards next season’s meal.

Many of the students are taking these lessons to heart. “Some of the students, particularly our younger ones, have never been to a farm or seen exactly where their food comes from,” says Hengst. “Maybe they’ve never seen an artichoke before and suddenly they are getting their hands dirty in the garden and then using the harvest to cook a new meal in the classroom.”

And even if students are not able to apply every composting technique or locally source every ingredient in their careers after graduation, the Institute hopes that they will continue to think about how their cooking impacts the world around them. “The most important thing is that chefs are making educated choices,” says Hengst. “We know that it isn’t always realistic for every restaurant to have its own garden but we do hope that all of our graduates are always looking at how their restaurant, customers and community can benefit from their food buying or preparing choices.

Stay tuned for the second part of this series to meet Casey Angelova, a student participating in the CIA’s effort to make food production and consumption more environmentally sustainable—and to learn how she plans to apply these lessons after she graduates.

Molly Theobald is a research fellow with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


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