By Anastasia Tsekeris
UVM Dining has recently been on the receiving end of student social media posts about the discovery of insects in food at on-campus dining halls. On September 27, an account on Instagram posted a video in the dining hall of a fork with a cabbage worm on it. Many students commented on the post, some poking fun at UVM’s commitment to local, organic, while others commented in disgust.
UVM Dining responded to the post in a comment:
“One of the benefits of sourcing organic food is that you know you are eating clean product that has not been treating with lots of chemicals. However, it can mean that small, harmless bugs go undetected, even through triple and quadruple washes. This is a cabbage worm and we have shared back this info with our local supplier. Thank you for letting us know, as we work with our amazing producers to bring local, quality, safe produce to campus every day. #realfoodcomesfromthedirt”
The hashtag #realfoodcomesfromthedirt refers to UVM Dining’s commitment to the Real Food Challenge, a national student movement in which universities work to source food produced in healthy and fair ways. Real Food has four highly-regulated categories: local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound (organic) and humane. Products must fit into at least one of these categories to be considered “real.”
UVM Dining’s original goal of 20 percent Real Food by 2020 was achieved in April 2017, and was promptly increased to 25 percent by 2025. UVM Dining met this goal and achieved 25 percent Real Food in July of 2018. UVM Dining has multiple partnerships with local producers, including the Intervale Food Hub and Black River Produce, in order to meet their goals of supporting local farmers and food producers.
In supporting local producers that implement ecologically sound practices, there is always a risk of pests making their way into the food. On large, industrial farms, producers will spray the crops with pesticides as a precaution to avoid any pests popping up on their vegetables. The cabbage worms found in the greens are very common in cruciferous vegetables, such as kale and broccoli. By eliminating the use of chemical pesticides, these crawlers are highly likely to make their way onto these types of veggies. Organic farmers typically use IPM or Integrative Pest Management to handle pests without employing harsh chemicals. These methods instead utilize biological and cultural controls, such as planting nearby vegetables that ward off certain pests near the intended crop.
Despite prevention methods, it is important to remember that quality produce has grown from a lively soil characterized by biodiversity, which means insects may be present. The greens in this specific incident were even triple-washed, which goes to show that bugs can often slip through the cracks. Additionally, cabbage worms are not unsafe to eat. They are easy to pick out and if ingested by accident, will not pose any health risk or cause sickness. The FDA sets guidelines for the amount of insects that can be found in a finished product, which for frozen or canned spinach is 50 or more aphids (pests) per 100 grams. When comparing that to the one bug found in a salad bar feeding thousands of students per day, the one bug doesn’t seem so bad.
Although this post may have been made with the intention of poking fun at on-campus dining, there are larger implications on the relationship between vendor and producer. Due to the student response and criticism, UVM Dining was in the unfortunate position to discontinue purchasing those greens from the supplier. Because UVM Dining is such a large purchaser, this greatly affects the farmer who now must find another client to purchase all of those greens. UVM is nationally recognized for its commitment to environmental health and agriculture. By supporting local farmers, the university is contributing to the livelihoods of Vermonters and engaging in a healthier, ecologically sound food system.
In the case that you do find a bug in your greens, I encourage you to speak with a UVM Dining employee prior to making a post about it. UVM Dining staff work to make the food provided to students healthy and safe, and would be happy to pull a few greens if there was a bug on it. By engaging in the conversation with dining staff instead of making a social media post, you contribute to a healthier dining hall experience that works in partnership with the local producer community.
-Anastasia Tsekeris is a senior pursuing degrees in Nutrition and Food Sciences and Food Systems. She is an intern with UVM Dining, and has worked with several local organizations including the Vermont WIC Program, the Winooski Farmer’s Market, and the Intervale Food Hub. Anastasia is very passionate about increasing food access to marginalized communities as well as empowering consumers to make healthy decisions regarding food.