Focus on food
Call Celia Castellano ’19 a pioneer. At least as far as the food sustainability on campus goes. Castellano is Furman’s first Bon Appétit Sustainability Foods Fellow, and is working with the university’s new food service provider, Bon Appétit, to represent sustainable food service practices, healthy eating habits and food waste-management practices to the Furman community. She also shares Bon Appétit’s sustainable mission with the Furman community through a series of outreach events.
Fortunately, she’s not having to start from scratch, although that is how all the food in the dining hall and at catered campus events is now prepared. A sustainability-minded food management company based in Palo Alto, California, Bon Appétit launched their Farm to Fork purchasing program in 1999 as the company’s main sustainability initiative.
“Company-wide, our goal is to be 20% local in purchasing for every unit across the company,” explains Chris Harris, Bon Appétit’s executive chef, who oversees all the food service at Furman. For the Farm to Fork program, we use local farmers and purveyors.” That means produce is sourced within 150 miles, while meat and seafood come from within a 500-mile radius.
Bon Appétit was also the first in their industry to switch to sustainable seafood, rBGH-free milk, cage-free eggs, and humanely raised meat, as well as being the first to confront food’s role in climate change and the issue of farmworkers’ rights.
As student liaison to Bon Appétit, Castellano talks to Harris at least once a week. “I try to keep my finger on the pulse of what the students would like to see as far as the food program goes,” states the chef. “Being an ex-restaurant owner, I always want to know what my customers are saying.” The advantage of working in a from-scratch kitchen is that he writes his menus once a week and can tailor the food program to students’ requests.
A sustainability science major whose aha moment in food sustainability occurred after she saw the documentary Food, Inc. in ninth grade, Castellano is involved in her own food fight—the effort to get both the Furman and the Greenville communities thinking about how much food they waste.
To this end, she recently spearheaded Lay Your Waste Day, a monthly event at which she and other student volunteers collect food waste from the tables during a meal period and empty it into a bucket placed on a scale in the dining hall. After weighing the discarded food, she divides the weight by the number of students to calculate how much waste is being produced per student per meal period.
Food waste is just one of the cornucopia of issues Castellano will address during her one-year fellowship. She is currently in the process of setting up a program with Loaves and Fishes in order to funnel Furman’s extra food to those in need in the community. For this, she is honing in on Furman’s catering department. They hold at least one catered event on campus every day, and thus have the potential for more leftover food.
This will, she hopes, lead to Furman becoming Food Recovery Certified by the Food Recovery Network, a grassroots student movement started at the University of Maryland in 2011. The Network is now the country’s largest student movement against food waste and hunger. “Becoming Food Recovery Certified will strengthen the connection between Furman and the local community,” Castellano notes.
The sophomore also participates in Bon Appétit’s outreach events, such as the Eat Local Challenge held each fall. For this event, each café is challenged to create a menu where everything on it—including salt, sugar, and spices—comes from no more than 150 miles away.
In conjunction with Earth Day this month, Castellano will help coordinate Bon Appétit’s Low Carbon Day. Meals in the dining hall on that day will spotlight ingredients from local farms, thus illustrating yet another way the university can cut down its carbon footprint.
The luxury of being the first person in her position is that Castellano can choose what she wants to do. “I’m setting the precedent for those who will come after me,” she says. “It’s fun because I can try a lot of different things.”
“Celia is fantastic,” crows Harris. “She’s very bright, and fun, and enthusiastic about what she’s doing. I appreciate that she is comfortable enough to come to us with new ideas. We look at it as a partnership.”