This year was supposed to be different. It was big news when, during the last school year, UWSP announced plans to switch from dining service giant Chartwells to a self-run operation. Until last night, that basically meant the school was buying from Sysco, instead of Chartwells buying from Sysco (effectively cutting out the middle man, although meal plan prices went up considerably this year). When asked about a recent student push for local food, the director of university dining responded with the offensive and patronizing comment, "People don't understand the real impact. To go local, we would be serving no lettuce in the middle of winter." Umm, this is one of the leading natural resources schools in the nation. For the most part, we understand the idea of agricultural seasons. We embrace it; the beauty of eating seasonally is variety. Not to mention the fact that some of the earliest proponents of the Farm-to-School method have been in New England, which, last time I checked, also enjoys winter.
Despite being a truly environmentally forward school, Stevens Point's dining program is, on a whole, lacking. So when I walked into the dining hall and was confronted with what was advertised as "Harvest Dinner," I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.
There was still pizza and pasta, like usual, as well as the salad bar and the build-your-own sandwich/wrap station. But the main line was loaded with (oh my God!) local food! Purple potatoes, roasted with lots of black pepper; whitefish from Lake Superior; bison stew (!); wild rice with cranberries; baked acorn squash; and apple crumble. All from Wisconsin. I was beyond excited.
It is my sincere hope that in the not-too-near future this will not be a once-a-year occasion that almost causes me to drop my polycarbonate cafeteria plate in disbelief. My dream is that soon, the oddity will be food from outside Wisconsin. Apples from Oregon? Why? We have orchards practically within walking distance. Masticated chicken patty? Nope...plenty of poultry to be had right here in Portage County. As difficult as it may be for kids to give up lettuce in December, I have faith in UWSP's student body. The least we can do is give it the ol' college try.