On the morning of the 17th of August, I was granted behind-the-scenes access to the Dundee University Student Association’s (DUSA) kitchen. I discussed with the head chef, Kevin, the recent steps being made towards sustainability. These were evident in the working kitchen. Below I will briefly discuss these measures as well as the challenges, and ideas for the future.
Menu & Seasonality
The menu holds more vegetarian and vegan options in recent years to try and encourage students to eat more healthily and sustainably. Each university term Kevin and his team create a new menu with new dishes to adapt to the seasonality of ingredients and to meet ever-changing demands. Although this is limited due to the university terms not fitting with the changes in season, this is addressed through the seasonal specials on offer –so keep an eye out for those!
Something that the catering team prides themselves upon is the locality of their ingredients. The vast majority of suppliers are within a 30-mile radius of Dundee. Meat, dairy, and deli stock come from producers in Fife. Fruit, vegetables, and bakery items come from Dundee-based Les Turriff and Nicoll’s Bakery. Even their wraps and sandwiches come from just up the road from Clark’s Bakery. Other than products from Clark’s bakery, everything is prepared and made fresh in their kitchen. If you head there in the morning there will be the smell of freshly baked cakes and cookies! This is promoted through the DUSA website and app through video and photo campaigns in order to connect students to where their food comes from.
Prior to COVID, DUSA catering worked with Zero Waste Scotland to weigh the waste that was produced. Food waste was separated into three different bins – preparation waste, spoilage, and plate waste (see photos 1&2). Each of these bins were weighed and taken away by the company to be composted. Unfortunately, this partnership was not continued. However, separate bins are still used. A new system is adopted whereby any food waste is documented, along with the reason for it and how many portions of the product (see photo 3). This information is inputted into an online system that calculates the weight of the waste, allowing for trends to be concluded. This helps with future planning of stock so that less is wasted. The food waste is then taken to Dundee Council’s food bins.
Photo 1: Food waste bin - plate waste
Photo 2: Food waste bins - preparation waste and spoilage waste
Photo 3: The new food waste information sheet prior to input to the online system.
Leftover food at the end of the day is offered to DUSA and catering staff to try and prevent it from being disposed of. If there is no one to eat it, it gets put into food waste. We discussed the possibility of passing on uneaten food to those who might need it, such as a community kitchen or food bank. Kevin agreed that if this were possible, he would love to see this happening, but described the difficulties of achieving this. For example, there is currently no way to ensure that passed-on food doesn’t end up being hazardous, such as if it were not heated up adequately to prevent illness. However, during the lockdowns, DUSA catering helped out where they could by donating a vast quantity of non-perishable items to local food banks.
Expense is the largest challenge faced when trying to provide sustainable foods. As we all know, local produce is more expensive than that imported or from large companies. Brexit has also made a huge difference to food prices too. DUSA prides itself in providing affordable meals, particularly as its main clientele are students. We discussed how it was a fine balance producing these healthy, locally sourced meals, ensuring these are affordable, and ensuring enough profit is made to pay all the catering staff and buy the produce. Any profits over this go back into the business and ultimately back to the student. The COVID-19 has also been a challenge, particularly with lockdowns, as consumer trends have been skewed.
Looking to the Future
We discussed what changes Kevin and his colleagues would like to see in 5 years’ time. Most people in DUSA catering are sustainability-driven and want to be completely self-sufficient in the near future. Kevin described a desire for a vegetable garden on campus, looked after by both DUSA catering and students. He hoped that this would make people more aware of where their food comes from, as well as allowing budding gardeners to test out their green fingers.
Overall, I had a very positive and inspiring experience of the DUSA kitchen and hope to have many more as we plan to be collaborating with them in the near future. So keep your eyes peeled on our website and social media pages for updates.