General Manager Jim O'Brien and Executive Chef Jess Dozier are among Sodexo's national leaders in purchasing locally produced food and reducing the environmental impact of the meals they serve.
All bread products and flour used in Whitworth's dining operations come from Shepherd's Grain, a cooperative of local farmers who use sustainable no-till farming practices. In-season produce is purchased from local growers. All seafood is from the Northwest, as are beef and chicken when prices are competitive. And plans are under way to purchase only cage-free eggs.
"It's a big eye-opener to re-establish the connection to where we get our food," Dozier says. "It helps our local economy. It's good for the environment. It's fresher and tastes better. It's a little more expensive, but not much. So it's a pretty clear decision. We can't take care of everything, but we're doing what we can."
Sodexo serves 50,000 meals a week at Whitworth and Gonzaga, so the company can do quite a bit. Dozier says that O'Brien is "relentless" about using the company's buying power to support local producers and to create demand for sustainable products.
Dozier is quick to point out that consumers don't have to be multinational companies to make a difference through their grocery purchases. He encourages people to request locally grown produce and bread products from their grocery store managers.
"If enough people request it, the store will provide it," Dozier says. "Why do you think Huckleberry's is so popular?"
Buying local is often better than buying organic if one factors in the environmental impact of shipping products from California or overseas, Dozier says. As a chef, he also takes into account that the majority of produce shipped to Spokane is picked before it is ripe and doesn't taste as good as fresh, locally grown produce.
"The big thing is that you know that what you're doing now is something that can be sustained for generations to come," Dozier says. "We do this because we think it's the right thing to do. It's in line with the mission of the university and it goes with being a good member of the community."