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1600 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
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Café Mac is the cafeteria on campus (students and faculty, you should know this by now). When people think about an establishment implementing environmentally conscious initiatives to change the infrastructure of our society, their first thought is not school cafeteria. Yet, Café Mac is a campus leader in sustainable initiatives.
Café Mac is a branch of Bon Appétit, a national dining service that caters to college campuses. One of the reasons that Café Mac has made so many sustainability initiatives is because going “green” is part of Bon Appétit’s mission statement, a pledge it calls “The Circle of Responsibility.” Bon Appétit sets goals every year such as reducing the amount of meat in their dishes and seeking out local resources of foodstuffs. In addition to mandates from Bon Appétit, Cafe Mac’s management also supports sustainability initiatives.
Café Mac operates like any other quality dining establishment. A few features unique to Café Mac are that: menus are not standardized but are created weekly by our chefs. Chefs use leftover scraps (fresh and uncontaminated) to create broths for soups. And, in the washing room is a machine called the pulper-think the terminator of food- that compacts food waste into a pulp-like substance.
A lot of people don’t know that Café Mac was located in Kagin until 2001. After moving to the Campus Center, eating at Macalester College became a far more luxurious and environmentally conscious experience; the mere design of the new cafeteria enabled a dramatic reduction in waste. Some of the sustainable steps Café Mac took following this move were to purchase local and organic ingredients, create vegetarian options, participate in the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch program, carry only Peace Coffee, limit carbon intensive such products such as pineapple, and donate unused food to shelters. Café Mac has also tried to educate diners about how the food they eat affects the environment by, for example, handing out pamphlets that detail the carbon emissions of various foods or rewarding students with gift certificates for cleaning their plates (leaving no waste). Recent innovations that we are experimenting with include reusable food containers at the Grille, Trayless Tuesdays (limiting the use of trays), and a food recycling program, whereby food is picked up by a truck that cooks the food with steam, and then delivers it as lunch to pigs. My job as “sustainability assistant,” a work-study position to monitor these activities, was also created this past semester. Many of these developments have been documented in student reports and in publications such as the Mac Weekly. These sources can be found at the end of this brief.
Another component of developing a sustainable cafeteria is creating a relationship between the students and their food, and creating a connection between the employees, the students, and the place where they eat. To create these bonds, Café Mac uses displays and puts on special events. Last semester, a table was set up at the front of the cafeteria showing the ingredients used to make a mulligatawny soup. Students were also introduced to the family that grows our rice through a biography located at the South station. Café Mac constantly attempts to make the eating environment more comfortable by collecting feedback via note cards and by offering new foods- see the infinitely expanding selection of salad toppings. Fun events are also held, such as the ice cream Sunday bar, and game day food (nachos, brats, etc.) on Superbowl Sunday. Students and employees often go out of their way to form relationships with each other; there are a few workers who are very popular. In the prep room, measures such as a wall where employees can complement each other, are taken to improve work relations and standards.
My job as a sustainability assistant at Café Mac is to make a realistic assessment of how we’re doing environmentally. It is not my duty to be a promoter. Café Mac has really made some outstanding developments over the years, which should be appreciated. We, of course, have some major steps to take. These goals are to: increase the percentage of organic and local food purchased, decrease waste (food and materials), decrease consumption of carbon intensive and environmentally food such as meat, increase the use of non-toxic cleaning supplies, decrease the energy and resources used in cleaning, and increase student care for the food we are eating in all aspects. I have no reason to doubt that we will continue to make progress.
2008 – 2009 Academic Year: Abe Levine had a lot of success working in Café Mac. One of his accomplishments was to install a food waste recycling system so that uneaten food is now sent to Barthold Farms to be consumed by pigs. Abe also conducted a survey of opinions surrounding Trayless Tuesdays, arranged a lunch with local farmers where farmers/representatives came as part of Earth Week to talk to Macalester students, organized a waste awareness campaign (public scraping, weighing of food), measured private food waste, organized a student art show with a food appreciation theme, and conducted an ethnographic survey of students' opinions on sustainability at Cafe Mac. As part of his waste awareness campaign, Abe completed a project to put up signs at the serving stations reminding people to consider where their food comes from and where it goes and worked with servers about giving small sample sizes and maintaining communication with students. Abe also worked to strengthen the relationships between food service personnel and students by placing short worker biographies every other week in the cafeteria. Abe’s ongoing work includes increasing garden space on campus, partnering Café Mac with an increasing number of local farms, and determining which future sustainability projects will be most suitable in the cafeteria.
Resources on Café Mac:
- Bon Appétit
- The Circle of Responsibility
- Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Program
- Vegan Option and Other Developments - MacWeekly Articles
- Individual Student Reviews