By Anjana Amirapu
For the past five years, there has always been a collaboration with ESLP action research teams and UCLA Dining and Hospitality to help reduce food waste, research local, sustainable food distributors, and further students "on the Hill" about the importance of eating locally and sustainably. As a vegetarian and vegetable gardening aficionado, I have always wanted to be on a sustainable food system team, so when I had to decide which projects' continued impacts I wanted to measure (known as a mini-project), I knew immediately that I wanted to research the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) teams from 2012-2013.
The 2013 SFS Team worked with the newly opened and sustainability themed dining hall, Bruin Plate, to research and recommend sustainable food vendors that had stringent enough sustainability criteria and could also manage the amount of food UCLA needed. The team recommended about five food distributors for produce and 10-plus for meat.
For my mini project, I interviewed Aliana Lungo-Shapiro, the sustainability manager for UCLA Dining and then first-time stakeholder for the 2013 team, to find out if Dining orders from any of the recommended vendors. I also wanted to know if UCLA's purchasing efficiency had increased from 2012.
Aliana said that as a first time stakeholder, the SFS team "exceeded expectations" and was very wonderful to work with as they made well-researched recommendations. Out of the five produce recommendations, Bruin Plate orders from Greener Field Together, the local division for food distributor Family Tree, because it was well-organized and has an educational program. The program was featured in Daily Bruin when affiliated farmers educated "on the hill students" about their produce on Earth Day. While UCLA Dining was considering Greener Fields Together prior to the SFS Team, Aliana said the team's research into their educational program helped Dining choose them. However, she did mention that the food buyers are still researching the meat vendor recommendations since meat procurement is a more lengthy and expensive process. Aliana also said future ART teams could potentially conduct further research into meat vendors.
I really enjoyed hearing that the 2013 team's vendor recommendations were of use to UCLA Dining. But my favorite part of the interview was just talking to Aliana and us both revisiting and analyzing what past ART teams did to make UCLA Dining more sustainable and how future teams can continue those projects. It was great to be able to connect with her and address our common interest in helping UCLA Dining reach its goals in sustainable foods. As I revisit past team's projects, I feel more invested in the program and more passionate to help their ideas and recommendations continue to impact the university for years to come.