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University of the Pacific dining commons serves locally produced food for challenge

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Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2007 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:10 pm, Tue Oct 2, 2012.

University of the Pacific freshman Lisa Brittan, 18, knows all too well about the benefits of eating locally grown foods.

While growing up in Davis, Brittan’s mother and father, a farm adviser for the University of California, Davis Extension, told her again and again how buying from local growers was better for the environment and local commerce.

To Brittan, though, eating food from local growers is a matter of taste.

“I like eating locally. It usually comes out tasting better,” Brittan said.

So when Brittan and her mother, Deborah Sedgwick Brittan, found out that the ingredients for the entire menu at Pacific’s Quad Dining Hall were coming from local producers, they couldn’t wait to take a bite.

Students at Pacific’s Quad Dining Hall and Redwood Room sat down Tuesday afternoon to chicken from Petaluma, strawberries from Watsonville and olive oil from Lodi at the university’s third Eat Local Challenge.

The event, put on by Pacific’s on-site restaurant company, Bon Appétit Management Company, is designed to show students how far food travels from the field to the fork.

David Anderson, executive chef at Quad, believes that Pacific’s enlightened audience of college students is the perfect place for Bon Appétit’s message.

“These students are going to be the ones that have the means to make a change,” Anderson said.

Proponents of the local-food movement argue that eating locally grown food reduces greenhouse gas emissions by cutting back on the distance the food travels.

Besides being better for the environment and the local economy, Anderson says locally grown food just tastes better.

That’s something Lodi olive oil producer Karen Chandler can get behind.

While selling her Cecchetti Olive Oil Co. brand at farmers’ markets, Chandler has noticed that once consumers try local products they seem to like them better.

Chandler noted that many of her competitors ship their products from Italy and other European countries.

“It takes a long time to get here, and who knows what it’s gone through,” she said.

However, for Anderson, creating an all-local menu large enough to serve anywhere between 800 and 1,200 people per meal required a bit more creativity.

Anderson took five weeks to plan the menu just for one day, and experienced more than one or two hiccups along the way.

For instance, when Anderson failed to find a local sugar source, he used organic honey from a company in Carmel Valley.

As part of the challenge, Anderson and his staff made their own butter out of local cream.

Instead of soda, Anderson gave students agua fresca, a traditional Mexican beverage, made from locally grown peaches.

One exception to the local ingredient list was salt, which doesn’t have a local producer within a 150 mile radius.

To take salt off the menu would make the food taste like garbage, Anderson said plainly.

“Part of the reason (for the event) is to show them that local food tastes better,” Anderson said.

While Anderson said his kitchen often uses local growers for most of its basic needs, to do an entirely local menu every day would be impractical for an operation of Pacific’s size.

Sia Mohsanzadegan, general manager of Bon Appétit’s Pacific division, said serving an all-local menu cost the company 20 percent more than serving its standard semi-local menu.

A meal at Quad Dining Hall costs approximately $7 for students.

Anderson hopes that as students see the importance of a local diet, local food sources will be easier to come by.

“Down the road we’re hoping to affect a change,” Anderson said.

However, students at Pacific hope that change comes sooner rather than later.

“I wish it was like this every day,” said Sylvia Mihalik, 25, a second-year graduate student.

Fellow graduate student Analucia Lopezrevoredo, 21, also agreed with Mihalik.

“It just tastes different, like it hasn’t been manhandled so much,” she said.

Contact reporter Amanda Dyer at amandad@lodinews.com.

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