The long journey of your SF State lunch
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For food served at SF State, it’s a long and winding road from the farm to the plate. On the subject of where the food we eat comes from, SF State students range from ambivalent to actively concerned.

Grant Willison, a 23-year-old environmental studies major, dines at City Eats twice a week and says he thinks about where the food he eats comes from constantly.

“It’s useful in life to know how you’re sustained,” said Willison. “It’s immoral not to. It’s improper for me to stand as a citizen and not think about it.”

For students looking for organic or sustainable origins in their food, a mixed bag is served up at State.
Sysco SF, the Bay Area branch of the national corporation, buys food from farms around the country to then sell to its local clients.

Scott Lesner, vice president of merchandising at Sysco SF, described his company’s food as “99 percent non-organic and one percent organic”. He also said Sysco SF has a policy against labelling foods as “sustainable” or “all-natural”, because they simply aren’t finite terms.

“Sysco wants to say some of our meat is sustainable or all-natural, but everyone has a different definition of what sustainable is,” he said. “Sysco is working on a finite definition of ‘sustainable’, and within the next year we’ll be able to prove it.”

City Eats, the campus dining hall situated between Mary Ward Hall and the Towers, is one of Sysco SF’s biggest clients on campus.

“We try as a company to go as local as possible,” said Edward Vicedo, Director of Dining Services and a representative of Chartwell’s, which works in conjunction with Sysco City Eats. “We are lucky to be in northern California where we get local produce. We get our chicken in Petaluma, our beef in Sonoma, and our milk from Berkeley Farms. However, there are many things we cannot get, like coffee and a variety of cheeses.”

Chartwell’s standards also stipulate that the seafood they serve is on the sustainability list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and that all eggs are cage-free.

Students like Lindsay Aymar don’t want to know what factors go in to the process of obtaining ingredients.
“I absolutely do not think about it,” said the 18-year-old biology major. “I don’t want to know. It makes it easier to eat here, because I’m afraid of where the food might actually come from.”

However, on-campus vendors say they strive to take that food, whether obtained by order form or an early-morning trip to the market, and make it a memorable dining experience for hungry students.

“My mother, Carmelina, goes to the produce market in South San Francisco every day,” said Marco Ballesteros, owner of Cesar Chavez Student Center’s Taqueria Gîrasol, Carmelina La Petite and Pizza & Pasta. “I eat here too and so do my kids, so I try to make it as healthy as I can.”

With a similar devotion to quality, Robert Darden, owner of Jessie’s Hot House, one of the Student Center’s newest additions, said he believes that fresh comes first.

“I’d say 90 percent of my food is fresh,” said Darden. “We get it from smaller wholesalers that we work with. A lot of our chicken is local, our vegetables are locally grown, and our dry goods are local, like the flour and cornmeal.”

At Taqueria Girasol, all of the salsa, guacamole, hot sauces, grilled vegetables and salads are fresh, and both restaurants have menus dominated by made-to-order fare.

Both restaurants also order from Sysco, a corporate food supplier. At the taqueria, Sysco provides much of the beef, chicken, canned goods, rice and beans that are served to students. Jessie’s Hot House orders its paper products from Sysco.

When it comes to food distributors, the owners look for several things.

“The number one thing I look for is competitive pricing, don’t let anyone tell you differently,” said Ballesteros. “Then it’s quality, the company itself and its reliability.”

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