Engrained, a café that has made a commitment to promote local and sustainable food, has been replaced on campus by Subway, a fast-food restaurant with more than 25,000 locations nationwide.
Since it was replaced this year, some selections from the Engrained menu have been added to the Viking Union café offerings, said Stephen Wadsworth, resident district manager of Aramark, Western's food service company.
“We continue to look for opportunities to increase our local, sustainable and organic purchasing,” Wadsworth said.
Engrained is a part of Aramark’s “Green Thread,” a program put in place to reduce the environmental impact of the company’s food production. Included in this program is a commitment to only use foods grown within a 150-mile radius of the store’s location and to divert food waste from landfills.
Because the chains here on campus are national franchises, Dining Services has zero influence on the ingredients they use, said Lindsey Juen, sustainability intern for Dining Services.
Gigi Berardi, professor of food and agriculture at Huxley College, expressed doubt that any big chain restaurants would protect farm productions and local food traditions.
“I think cooking at home and shopping for your own food is the only way to do that,” she said. “It could be that certain elements are ‘sustainable,’ according to their criteria.”
Seth Vidaña, campus sustainability manager, said there are no official criteria for sustainability for on-campus restaurants.
Wadsworth said Aramark works to provide locally grown seasonal produce in Western’s dining halls.
“All milk and soft-serve ice cream is sourced through Edaleen’s Dairy right here in Whatcom County,” Wadsworth said.
Local partners of Aramark include The Bagelry, Tokyo House and the Community Food Co-op.
Subway offers vegan, vegetarian and breakfast options, which students found particularly favorable, according to a survey conducted by Aramark.
At the same time, some students feel as though Western could benefit from businesses based closer to home.
“As a student, I would rather see local businesses over chains, such as Avenue Bread,” sophomore Amber Vincent said. “With so much good food in downtown Bellingham, it’s a waste.”
Western has made an effort to use more local food in the past.
In 2009 Western signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Slow Food, a worldwide organization promoting enhanced food choices and local food traditions.
This agreement represented Western’s commitment to provide healthy agricultural foods, including small-scale production and local food transitions, according to a press release.
Along with the MOU agreement, Western also joined the Real Food Challenge in 2010.
The Real Food Challenge encourages colleges and universities to set a goal to purchase 20 percent 'real food' by 2020, according to a press release.
“’Real food’ is food that truly nourishes not only the consumer, but also the producers, the communities it comes from and is served in, and the earth,” said Emma Brewster, Northwest regional coordinator for the Real Food Challenge.
A food is automatically disqualified from being considered 'real food' if it contains high fructose corn syrup, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Brewster said.
Vidaña said that in the two years prior to the 2012 school year Western had improved its percentage of 'real food' on campus.
“It’s difficult to say for sure, but most likely these places such as Panda Express, Subway and Starbucks would not count as ‘real food,’” Brewster said.