Rathbone Student Restaurant became Lehigh’s first dining hall to be awarded a two-star green restaurant certification, which means it met many of the environmental standards set into place by the nonprofit organization The Green Restaurant Association.
After taking 43 environmental steps, Rathbone was awarded 132 GreenPoints, according to the director of Rathbone Lauren Sleeger. Sleeger said most of the steps necessary to earn the certification were already in place at Rathbone, so there were not many changes to make.
“We wanted to be on the forefront of creating these changes as opposed to being mandated to do it,” Sleeger said. “We did it voluntarily. A lot of things they probably wouldn’t notice, but again, it’s not that we weren’t doing them, it’s just that it’s an everyday thing already.”
While there have been environmentally friendly updates to the dining hall, many students have yet to notice a substantial upgrade in quality of the food.
Out of 106 students surveyed by The Brown and White, 71 students said they have not noticed a change in quality of the food, and 11 noted that they thought the quality had decreased.
Lehigh’s executive chef Joseph Kornafel said students may not recognize the improved quality of food because they have not eaten the food for an extended period of time. The process of improving their environmentally friendly practices and the quality and presentation of the food evolves over time. Kornafel said students spend only a few years in the dining halls before moving off campus or into a sorority or fraternity house.
“It is a constant, step-by-step evolution and there’s no such thing as a jump from A to Z without going through B, C, D and so on and so forth,” Kornafel said. “So it’s a little bit at a time.”
About 20 percent of students who responded to the survey noticed better quality in the food over the past year, and five students said there are now more choices.
According to Sleeger, the dining hall did make some changes in their menu to introduce more vegetarian options.
“Looking at our menu and looking at how many vegetarian options that we have available also reduces the carbon footprint,” Sleeger said. “Students don’t really think about it, but well over 30 percent of what we produce here is actually vegetarian.”
Kornafel said most of the changes made to achieve the environmental accreditation impacted the facilities, not the food. These changes included switching out all of the building’s light bulbs to LEDs and updating the hand sinks to low-flow faucets.
“The original flow rate when the building was built in 1972 was six gallons per minute on a hand sink,” Kornafel said. “Now, being energy efficient, our water waste is anywhere between a half gallon per minute flow rate to one and a half gallons. So you can see an immense difference just making that type of transition.”
Over the past several years, Rathbone has also gradually introduced other environmentally friendly practices such as reusable take-out containers, which were introduced five years ago, and trayless dining, which was introduced six years ago.
Teresita Liebel, ’17, and others involved in Lehigh’s Real Food Challenge have been working with Rathbone to bring quality, environmentally friendly food to the dining hall.
Over the past year, Rathbone has switched its main local food distributor to Common Market — a move that helped reduce its carbon footprint and bring more localized fresh food to students.
The Real Food Challenge also hosted a lunch in which every dish was made from local and organic produce. Liebel said students reacted positively to the food and the new recipes, but there is not much communication between students and administration in the dining hall about what they do and do not like to eat.
“I think there’s a disconnect between the executives and the chefs and the students in that there’s not a whole lot of feedback on what the students want based on what they can make,” Liebel said. “If there were more open conversation between the two then the students would be able to say ‘we really didn’t like this,’ and so maybe they wouldn’t serve it ever again.”