Students walking into Sherman Dining Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 5, were able to partake in four dishes that were part of Sodexo’s Future 50 Ingredients campaign. These dishes — a wild rice, quinoa and lentil bowl (non-kosher lunch); a crispy hoisin tofu wrap with lotus root (kosher lunch); a cauliflower and amaranth risotto bowl (non-kosher dinner); and an ube maitake tartine (kosher dinner) — were created through a Sodexo partnership with the United Kingdom branch of the World Wildlife Fund and food brand Knorr Professional, per Sodexo’s Sept. 10, 2019 press release. Per the same release, the ingredients used in last Wednesday’s featured dishes were created from a set of 50 ingredients WWF-UK and Knorr had jointly identified as being nutritious and having “a lower environmental impact.” 

Sodexo launched 40 Future 50 recipes across 2,500 locations. In an interview with the Justice, Sodexo’s marketing specialist Emily Baksa explained that Brandeis was chosen because its students “express a high demand for vegan and vegetarian offers” and the members of the Brandeis Dining culinary team are “passionate about plant based eating.” In response to a question about extra expenses, Baksa stipulated that this and other special events are included in their Brandeis budget and that Sodexo is “happy to keep providing these exciting events to the community!” Should Sodoxo remain at Brandeis after June 2020, Baksa believes pop-ups and events will remain a large part of campus dining. Universities are a key market for plant-based eating, she added, saying that the response to it has been very positive.

Of the meals exhibited in Sherman last week, Baksa reported that the wild rice bowl was most popular at lunch and that the tartine was favored at dinner. These results were collected through a poll posted on the Brandeis Dining instagram story. 

When asked if meat is being phased out long-term as part of Sodexo’s push for sustainability, Baksa responded that Sodexo “wants guests to understand that meat does not have to always be the center of the plate and that integrating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables is beneficial for both your health and the health of the environment.” However, meat is not being entirely phased out. Instead, Sodexo has been making an effort to include more vegan and vegetarian recipes and to exhibit a wider variety of plant-based foods. Sodexo hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2025, Baksa said in the same email, and implementing more plant-based menus are a key part of the initiative. 

In the same interview, the Justice asked Baksa about hidden costs of sustainable eating — economic impacts on communities that had once relied on now-popular foods, for example. Baksa responded that Sodexo is “carefully considering the costs and social impacts of all the Future 50 recipes” and that ingredients are vetted. The vetting agencies look at the climate and social impacts of foods, fair trade ways to grow the Future 50 ingredients and the ability of the ingredients to conserve soil nutrients. 

Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL) affirmed in an email to the Justice that plant-based eating is good for our planet. She pointed out, “If you swap out beef and cook some delicious lentils instead you’re doing threefold good — lower greenhouse gases, less animal suffering and better health for yourself.” Asked about costs of sustainable eating worldwide, von Mering asserted that focusing on hidden costs is rhetoric used by climate deniers “so that we don’t focus on the much bigger problem of the fossil fuel industry. Don’t be fooled!” Moreover, von Mering said that sustainable policies she wants to see implemented once this “criminal” presidential administration is over include an overhaul of farming subsidies to benefit small-scale and organic farmers, an international ban on glyphosate and more research money allocated to sustainable farming. “To understand why things are the way they are,” von Mering said, “just follow the money!”

Brandeis Uprooted and Rising did not respond to a request for comment by press time.