On most mornings, Chef Tom Patterson can be found in the Rose Hill Marketplace, more colloquially known as the caf, interacting with his kitchen staff and planning meals for the thousands of Fordham students (about 2700 of them) that pass through the Marketplace doors each day.
“I don’t want to say passion, because I think passion is overrated,” Patterson said of his feelings about sourcing and cooking food that he strives to make tasty and healthy as well as earth-friendly. “You really have to be dedicated [to sustainability].”
Since he became the executive chef of the Marketplace last fall, Patterson tries to instill what he calls “best practices” on a day-to-day basis, created in collaboration with other university chefs as well as Sodexo administrators, to leave only the smallest impact on the environment.
“We’re still in a stage where people are still unaware of repercussions, and how little some of these fixes are,” Patterson said of the practices he tries to instill at the Marketplace, including turning off ovens and reducing dishroom waste. “They’re simple practices that actually, in the long run, if you get everyone on board, that make the difference.”
Sodexo’s Resident District Manager John Azzopardi is concerned about issues of sustainability as well. With the help of the Student Culinary Council (SCC), Sodexo executives at Fordham have been making strides to not only reduce waste, but to make students aware of their own environmental impact.
“Our waste cooking oil is converted into biodiesel fuel for the Ram Vans,” Azzopardi said in an interview. “And by sourcing from local vendors, [our produce supplier] Baldor lowers their carbon footprint as well.”
In addition to reducing travel related waste, Sodexo also partners with St. Rose’s Garden, a campus green space and student club, to compost food scraps, and a decision to go “trayless” in the cafeteria years ago has reduced water as well as food waste.
On a larger scale, Patterson has teamed up with Baldor Specialty Foods, a vendor, to get the freshest, and when possible, organic and local, food to Fordham’s table. Supply is based on when food is in season, and when Baldor has it in stock.
For example, Patterson explained that because we’re at the beginning of the season here in New York, the organic offerings this week are the asparagus, spinach, and spring mix from California. In a few weeks’ time, more local options will be available.
Baldor’s facility, located just a few minutes away from Fordham in the Hunts Points neighborhood, is where Fordham’s deliveries originate. However, Baldor receives shipments from all over the world, bringing the freshest food possible to hundreds of vendors, including many universities catered by Sodexo.
“It’s both old-school and progressive at the same time,” said Baldor’s director of sales, Jim Chlebogiannis, of Sodexo’s efforts to remain local. Chlebogiannis also emphasized the importance of daily shipments in their enormous warehouse.
Chlebogiannis explained the daily turnover process for produce. “We have the ability to buy from a farmer, a New York state farmer, they’re going to harvest today, they’re gonna pack it, our truck is gonna be in the area anyway, we’re gonna stop by the farm, pick up the product, bring it to Baldor,” he said in an interview.
Baldor’s fleet of over 200 trucks deliver to over 2,000 clients in New York City, Washington D.C., and Boston, and 75,000 packages per day leave the facility, according to Chlebogiannis. Many are delivered within two hours to maximize freshness of product. Baldor is also making sustainability efforts by using self-charging solar forklifts, hybrid and biodiesel trucks, recycling paper, and composting food scraps, Chlebogiannis says, similar to efforts being made by Sodexo at Fordham.
But not all that Patterson has been working towards has been noticed by students. Zoe Sakas, a FCRH sophomore, explains that she is underwhelmed by the options at the Marketplace.
“I went vegetarian for two months, and it was really hard to eat [at the Marketplace],” Sakas said. “It’s not like [the meals] actually taste that bad, the meals are doable. I feel like they just need to give more options.” Sakas said that she has seen small improvements over her time here, but not anything significant.
Upperclassmen have seen more changes over time, but still are not completely satisfied. Jenny Dorso, a FCRH senior, has appreciated an increase in the quality of food and options over time, but still cites convenience as a reason to choose options that are less healthy.
“The sushi and stir fry station is great, but I think the time it takes to prepare the food unfortunately causes people to choose something less healthy,” Dorso said in an email. “There seems to be a good amount of veggie options on a daily basis, but I wish there was more fruit!”
Former SCC Marketplace Chair Sara DeSimine, FCRH ’14, said it’s difficult to find a balance between variety and sustainability, two of students’ biggest concerns. “It’s very hard to get [a variety of produce] because we want to be sustainable and not ship things in from all over the country when we can get local options that are better for the environment and better for local communities and economies,” DeSimine said in an interview. “It’s a struggle to find an even keel in that choice, between what students want and what the best option is for everyone.”