Survey Results

Sterling Sustainable Food Survey
Conducted by A Sense of Plate
November – December 2009

The fall 2009 Food Survey conducted by A Sense of Plate generated 91 responses from Sterling students, faculty, and staff. Some of the information is highlighted below (and the rest is contained in the following pages):

– Over ¾ of the population are omnivores and another 11% are vegetarians unless presented with local meat, which they will eat
– When asked about guiding dietary principals, local and organic practices were cited most often, followed by non-GMO and health
– Over 1/3 of respondents stated that it was “super important” to them to eat as locally as possible, while approximately another 1/6 claimed that it was their number one concern.
– Most respondents considered “local” to mean within 50-100 miles
– When asked how often they would like to eat meat, over 40% of meat-eaters responded that they would prefer to have it 3 times weekly, while another 25% said that they wanted it once a day.
– Almost ¾ of all those surveyed said that they would at least consider cutting back their meat intake in favor of more local produce.
– Respondents reacted extremely favorably toward organic food and pasture-raised meats and negatively toward GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, and factory-farmed meat.
– When asked about the origin of 11 basic foods used in the kitchen, respondents claimed to know the most about the origins of milk, meat, and coffee, and the least about non-local spices, chocolate, and sugar. Over 90% stated that they would like to know where their food comes from.
– Additional comments saw both many statements encouraging reducing the amount of meat served and several expressing fears of seeing reduced amounts of meat (despite the fact that meat was not the basis of most questions on the survey).

Error consideration: Factors that may have skewed survey results include the following: less than full participation; incomplete responses (some participants only filled out one or two questions); a small number of discarded surveys that were inappropriate and not constructive; vague question wording; and some limited response choices.

Action plan: In conjunction with kitchen staff and any others who wish to be involved, the A Sense of Plate group will identify potential areas for change and make a timeline for acting within the first month of the second semester (Feb. 2010).


Total Surveys Received: 91

1. How would you classify your eating habits?
a. Vegan: 3 (3%)
b. Vegetarian: 6 (7%)
c. Omnivore: 69 (76%)
d. Other – Vegetarian mostly but will eat local meat: 10 (11%)
– Vegetarian mostly but will eat poultry:1 (1%)
– Eat mostly meat if I can: 2 (2%)

2. What (if any) principles do you do your best to follow?
– Local and organic: 30 (33%)

– Local: 16 (16%)
– Organic: 16 (16%)
– Price: 11 (12%)
– No factory-farming: 4 (4%)
– Non-GMO: 20 (22%)
– Reduced meat intake: 5 (6%)
– Common sense/whole foods: 7 (8%)
– Personal health: 10 (11%)
– Food quality: 2 (2%)
– No principles whatsoever: 6 (7%)

3. How important is it to you that we eat as locally as possible?
1) I don’t care: 1 (1%)
2) A little bit: 11 (12%)
3) A lot: 25 (27%)
4) Super important: 30 (33%)
5) Number one concern: 15 (16%)

4. What does “local” mean to you?
1) Sterling-grown: 0
2) Within 20 miles: 7 (8%)
3) Within 50 miles: 22 (24%)
4) Within 100 miles: 30 (33%)
5) Within NE: 23 (25%)
6) Other – within 10 miles: 3 (3%)
– within VT: 2 (2%)
– within 1,000 miles: 1 (1%)

5. If you eat meat, how often would you like to eat it?
1) Every meal: 11 (12%)
2) Once a day: 24 (26%)
3) 3 times weekly: 37 (41%)
4) Other – Once a week: 5 (6%)
– Once or twice a week: 3 (3%)
– Whenever locally available: 3 (3%)
– 4-5 times weekly: 1 (1%)

6. If eating less meat afforded us to buy more local produce, would you be willing to cut your meat eating back?
– Yes: 48 (53%)
– No: 16 (18%)
– Maybe: 19 (21%)
If yes or maybe, how often would you be willing to cut back to, and if no, why not?
– daily: 5 (6% of total respondents – not just those who were agreeable to cutting back… the percentages are slightly higher counting only that population)
– 1-3 times per week: 18 (20%)
– 4 or 5 times per week: 4 (4%)
– once a week: 3 (3%)
– whenever meat is available locally: 3 (3%)
– whatever it takes: 5 (5%)
– it depends on the alternative: 2 (2%)
– I won’t cut back because meat is healthy: 5 (6%)

7. How do you feel about the following foods or the methods of food production?

Won’t tolerate Need to know more Not sure In moderation is okay I love it I don’t care
GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) 49 (54%) 19 (21%) 13 (15%) 7 (8%) 0 2 (2%)
HFC (High Fructose Corn Syrup) 50 (55%) 7 (8%) 3 (3%) 24 (26%) 0 2 (2%)
Non-organic (general) 4 (4%) 13 (14%) 6 (7%) 48 (53%) 2 (2%) 14 (15%)
Organic (general) 0 5 (6%) 0 4 (4%) 69 (76%) 9 (10%)
Tropical Fruit 2 (2%) 10 (11%) 10 (11%) 36 (40%) 16 (18%) 6 (7%)
Factory-farmed meat 47 (52%) 20 (22%) 2 (2%) 12 (13%) 0 3 (3%)
Humanely raised meat 2 (2%) 5 (6%) 3 (3%) 20 (22%) 51 (56%) 6 (7%)
Grass fed or pasture-raised meat 2 (2%) 3 (3%) 3 (3%) 11 (12%) 63 (70%) 4 (4%)

8. Do you know where these items in the kitchen come from?

Yes No
Tropical Fruit 28 (31%) 54 (59%)
Coffee 42 (46%) 38 (42%)
Chocolate 9 (10%) 72 (79%)
Sugar 9 (10%) 72 (79%)
Flour 19 (21%) 62 (68%)
Olive Oil 10 (11%) 70 (77%)
Milk 51 (56%) 30 (33%)
Non-local spices 5 (6%) 75 (82%)
Jam 17 (19%) 63 (70%)
Peanut Butter 14 (15%) 65 (71%)
Meat 20 (22%)

Sometimes: 24 (26%)

21 (23%)

9. Would you like to know where they come from?
– Yes: 83 (91%)
– Don’t Care: 5 (6%)
– No: 1 (1%)


The following comments came from the “comments, thoughts, ideas” section at the end of the survey. Inappropriate (those that are comments are not included.

“Work with local farmer to grow certain groups and animals for us. We need more freezer space.”

“I would like to see whole food wheat-free options at every meal and in general reduce our what-based diet to more diversified whole grains and veggies.”

“For vegetarian options, make some without soy, tofu, seitan, tempeh. I feel like I eat a lot of meat because the veg options always are some kind of tofu or seitan. I want just veggies sometimes, maybe beans and rice for protein. I’m sick of tofu.”

“More Sterling-raised food.”

“Let’s not be overtaken by vegetarians… we’ll have choices still, I hope.”

“Grow and store all of our own root crops: carrots, potatoes, beets, turnips, radishes, celeriac, rutabagas. Eat only our own meat (or very local). Establish stronger connection with Pete’s Greens.”

“Get rid of high-fructose corn syrup, have less coffee and tropical fruit? I’ve heard that our lettuce comes from California, and if so I really think that we need to find another source for this. Maybe cut back on sugar use? Very important: serve more RAW, local, fresh veggies!!!”

“I wholeheartedly support any and all sustainability efforts that the kitchen pursues. I would love for us to grow more of our own food and strengthen our farm/garden & kitchen connection. I would love to expend our meat bird (chicken and turkey) production. You all rock! Thanks for doing this important work & asking for our input.”

“I wouldn’t call the kitchen completely sustainable… catch methane from degrading manure and use it as a stove fuel? Also larger garden could be made. Food storage?”

“As a vegan I suppose my opinion doesn’t count much, but I would love to see less meat in favor of more local veggies.”

“Expand our production area – more veggies and less meat.”

“Reducing the amount of meat served per week would probably benefit us monetarily, but another option is to be strategic in its use and distribution. In things that can have or not have meat included—don’t—so that more people can eat it, and if someone wants meat it can be a side dish of its own.”

“Thanks for asking.”

“It is more important to me that we eat seasonally than organically if what we buy organic comes from far away. I would much rather we eat cabbage salads at this time than get organic lettuce from California. No fresh tomatoes out of season – eat squash, kale, cabbage, roots, carrots, etc. Also rather than buy specialty out of season foods like asparagus, substitute with some food like kale that we do have. Keep producing foods from “scratch” rather than buying things like pies and cakes in packaging. I even question the unsustainable energy needs of a hoop house (the fan electric are so high we can’t do solar power) so that we can eat greens all winter. Also, the environmental aspects of our food choices are important to me. I understand that there are some foods that are difficult to get local. Shipping spices, coffee, and other dry foods in not as bad on the environment and shipping fresh, heavy w/water items. Thank you Sense of Plate for all your great work – for listening! Thanks to the Sterling growers and food processors – the wonderful kitchen staff! It is exciting to think where we can go!”

“We need to eat less meat substitute. Dishes such as chili and enchiladas that already contain beans and dairy for protein do not need meat substitute products. I am concerned about the estrogen levels in soy and about how processed (embedded energy) these food products are. Thank you!”

“I would be interested in storing more of root crops so we could have these throughout the winter. Could we make our own jams during the summer? I’m not sure of what we could do, but I would be on board for helping out!”

“No soy meat substitutes!”

“More Sterling foods. I’m all about a ton of potatoes and roots and things that we grow well.”

“I believe we can be producing a lot more meat, eggs, and milk on our own farm than we currently do. This would cut down on food costs and make the farm a better educational resource at the same time. MORE LIVESTOCK!!!”

“Let’s be realistic when it comes to costs. While many students come from wealthy backgrounds, many more do not. The bottom line should be the dollar, not some fancy contrived food stuff that makes vegans and other picky eaters feel okay. We are biologically evolved to be omnivores and only in an over-privileged society do we have the option to be so picky.”

“I think you guys and girls should do a workshop in the barn or wherever showing us where the food is coming from and ideas to be a more sustainable kitchen. Thank you so much for your hard work! Also, some hummus with the bread that’s out would be great.”

“Hummus to go with bread instead of butter, peanut butter, and jelly. More fruits and cheeses as snacks. Juice all times of day (water is a little bland for lunch and dinner) or something with taste to it) teas, iced tea, lemonade.”

“We have to balance a number of factors so I think we have to deal with some compromises. Having, said that, I think we should strive for local, grass-fed (humane), organic, least-processed choices. Perhaps simpler meals at times but still special occasions. Food is so often about celebration!”

“I think it’s really important and I am grateful to A Sense of Plate for working on it! And to the kitchen as well!”

“Feeding the college should be a benefit of our farm program. Where this is not possible items should be purchased locally to reduce effects of having them come from great distances.”

“I’m not convinced that Sterling’s kitchen is currently sustainable. I’d like to see more about it.”

“Define sustainable kitchen – have a mission statement. Define limits (if any) to locally grown food. Define values for purchase (as this survey does). Create a fact-checker about food and the Sterling kitchen.”

“Sterling kitchen is wonderful. Great food and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and effort that go into providing food to please everyone. The amount of food coming from our own campus and surrounding area and the efforts to increase this are awesome!”

“Promote more small-scale meat production on our land (pig, sheep, poultry, rabbit), deemphasize large animal production at Sterling.”

“I think we could greatly improve our system. 1) Buy more local – we can grow more and we can buy more from Riverside and Pete’s. Also less meat means more $ for more local products. 2) Less waste in the kitchen – more awareness about our own waste & how we can reduce our waste.”

“Less meat is fine with me!”

“Keep up the good work!”

“Continue to cook from scratch. Use less plastic!”

“More canning and preserving of food from garden to have during the winter and early spring.”

“Less carbs and starches (i.e. the amount of pasta/potatoes we eat) – more protein-based meals.”

“Let’s develop a contract with someone nearby to raise beef for us specifically.”

“We should grow more of our meat. Workers should manage their time efficiently.”

“Continue to expand our production to grow. Hoop house will help. Buy from/form partnership with Pete’s/Robert Linck. Talk to the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick. Are there grants available?”

“I support you in whatever it takes to be sustainable and provide local food!”

“Food should be prepared so everyone can enjoy it. If meat is the highlight of every meal then vegans and vegetarians are left out; without meat, everyone can eat it.”

“Continue/improve on labeling of items on the menu board.”

“It’s important that folks know how to choose alternatives to meat. I’m borderline anemic, so iron is very important.”

“I love that there is always a vegetarian option. It makes my life so much easier and healthy. I really enjoy the tempeh and seitan – the tofu is alright.”

“It’s very important to remember and think about the ‘human’ element of sustainability. I often feel that the culture at Sterling ignores how people feel about food and that has a big impact on the sustainability of my human endeavor. Food needs to be fun, healthy, and a good experience. Don’t forget to manage that aspect of sustainability too. No one needs pie or chicken wings, but they are so good! And that’s an important part of our relationship with food.”

“I feel that eating meat is an important part of a healthy diet, and I already limit my meat consumption. I feel that this is a very personal choice and one that Sterling needs to accommodate.”

“Meat can be stretched so easily – chopped, made into broth, etc. Just serve less “whole meat” – potpie instead of roasts.”

“Keep it up! Our kitchen is unlike anything at most colleges. We’re blessed with how it is already and that it has a mission. Keep doing it.”

“Get that jelly out of the kitchen! Jamming is NOT hard – let’s make our own!”

“Sterling owes it to us to tell us where our food comes from!”

“We could have a binder/booklet with all of our food and ingredients and where they come from – at least brand names so that students can do further research on their own.”

“I love dilly beans.”

“Considering we usually have such a limited menu, we should keep in mind peoples’ tastes and preferences so that some don’t go without meals because certain things aren’t appealing.”

“Healthy people eat meat. If we can’t have local meat because of costs, switch to factory meat.”

“Food is food – high quality and whole foods being the better foods.”

“I’d cut out meat completely if we could have more local produce.”

“Cultivate communication between farm and kitchen. Better storage facilities. Turn the soccer field into agricultural land. Promote draft animals. Trimester system would help. More all-college work days. Thanks, keep up the good work.”

“Don’t serve as many carbs – more lean protein and veggies and fruits.”

“I found out about Sterling from a brilliant chef who had set up a network of farmers to supply a big kitchen (300 – 800 people 3 times a day) in the Hudson Valley. He had contacted Sterling a few years ago to try and put us on the map as an ideal example of farm-to-table on as institutional scale. It didn’t work at the time for obvious reasons, but everywhere I look, I see opportunity for changes here in our food system at Sterling; all it would take, probably, is commitment to making food one of our top-most priorities, a thorough action plan, and some hard work both hands-on (creating infrastructure) and building connections to people and organizations that could help us move forward.”

“Thank you so much for caring about us. It seems that buying local and/or organic, sugars, chocolates, meats, and other foods must be pricey, but we love and appreciate you guys for trying!”

“The school could put more emphasis on the amount of garden space we have and how well we care for and use these and the grounds.”

“Less meat substitute, make what we use. Grow more food, eat more food.”

“If we eat less meat, grow more food, and have a place to store the food we grow, it would help lower cost. Maybe try to arrange a deal with Pete’s Greens – a deal where Sterling rents a plot to grow or store food in exchange with student help.”

“As long as I’m getting a balanced meal, I don’t care how often I eat meat. I do think the school serves too much meat and meat substitutes. More legumes!”

“More seasonal food. Build root cellar. Less meat, more local meat. No more GMOs. More Sterling-grown food.”

“Plant native ginger! And nut trees and fruit trees! Students could sell clean, wild edibles to the kitchen. How about some New England nut producers? Non-soy protein sources? More beans for staple protein! Pseudo-local non-organic meat is better than factory meat. Thanks for all your hard work Anna, Katie, and the kitchen staff!”

“I fond industrial meat more palatable than industrial veg, so would like to see as much local, organic veg as possible. However, in order to be happy, I will always want meat at least once or twice a day and meals that don’t have meat must be starch-based.”

“I’d like the kitchen to stop using vegetable oils (like canola oil). I know this isn’t really possible because of high prices of olive oil and coconut oil. Butter and lard would be good but that wouldn’t be vegetarian or vegan. Raw honey would be good too. That’s pretty expensive though, I guess. More fermented foods! I love our kitchen! Yay!”

“More local meat – especially BACON.”

“I try to eat meat to keep it in my diet so that my body maintains the ability to handle it – that’s pretty much the only reason I eat it. Organics don’t have to be certified in my mind if they can back up that they practice methods of mainly being organic. Other practices I don’t have an opinion on. Meals don’t have to be loaded with meat like 10 lbs of sausage. Not a big fan of eggs.”

“‘Local’ is relative. In general eating local is great but people have been trading for thousands of years and trade in and of itself is not a bad thing. Fundamentalism is usually a bad thing though!”

“I’d be willing to cut back my meat consumption for more local produce, but I do not want to eat more soy products in place of meat.”

“Soy isn’t grown locally enough.”

“I want to moderate meat more.”


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