Sustainable Dining

In all its dimensions, sustainable dining is a critical component of Columbia University’s environmental initiatives. Columbia Dining, the University’s primary food service program, operates with sustainability best practices at its core.  

Sustainable Purchasing

Approximately 54% of all food served is purchased from vendors within 250 miles of the Morningside campus.  A New York City Greenmarket and area farms work with Columbia Dining.

  • Milk originates from Clover Farms in Reading, PA and is distributed by GAF Seelig.  Clover Farms prohibits the use of synthetic hormones and certifies that their milk is GMO-free. 

  • Tomatoes are sourced by FreshPoint Connecticut and purchased from local farms such as James Desiderio in Buffalo, NY, Chrisaforo Farms in North Haven, CT, and Beckett Farms in Glastonbury, CT.  Since California is a prime growing region, FreshPoint purchases and transports tomatoes using a dedicated rail service, Railex USA.  Both options help to ensure freshness and reduce carbon emissions.  FreshPoint partners with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a non-profit community-based workers organization that works to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in the tomato supply chain.

  • Tomatoes are also grown at Old Maid’s Farm in South Glastonbury, CT, and used for salsa made by Onofrio’s of New Haven, CT.

  • Apples and fresh apple cider are purchased from local farms located in New York State.

  • Strawberries, grown at Hindinger Farm in Hamden, CT, are used for jam, also made by Onofrio’s of New Haven, CT. 

  • Coffee is fair trade, organic, shade grown, bird friendly and roasted in Brooklyn by the Brooklyn Roasting Company.

  • Bakery goods and grab-and-go sandwiches are purchased from local vendors in New York City’s five boroughs.

  • Honey is purchased from Ballard’s Honey in Roxbury, NY, a Columbia Greenmarket vendor.

  • Seafood purchases are determined by the Northeast guidelines of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Dining buys from the “Best Choices” category, meaning the fish are plentiful and caught or farmed according to sustainability standards.

  • All Coca-Cola products are manufactured in the Bronx.

  • Suppliers provide seasonal and locally grown vegetables to the dining halls and retail outlets. Vegetables include green leaf, romaine and Boston lettuce; cucumbers; red radishes; green, red and white cabbage; leeks; turnips; escarole; red, green, Serrano, jalapeno and Italian peppers; red beets; carrots; portabella, shiitake, enoki, crimini and button mushrooms; spaghetti, butternut, yellow and zucchini squashes; pumpkin; eggplant; collard greens; spinach; red and white potatoes; Swiss chard; green beans; corn; parsnips; sweet onions; and green peas.

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Menu Range

Columbia Dining provides vegetarian and vegan options daily, both in the dining halls and retail outlets. Menus also accommodate food allergies and special diets. Fifty percent of meals served in the dining halls are vegetarian and vegan. Meatless Mondays is observed weekly at Ferris Booth Commons.

Food is stamped with allergen identification labels that indicate vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items, as well as those containing egg or dairy. Each dining hall has a separate table containing raw nuts, seeds and peanut butter.

Columbia Dining‘s Registered Dietitian, Kristie Koerner, meets with students regularly to provide customized meal planning, facilitate one-on-one consultations with the Executive Chef, and educate students on balanced nutrition.


Community Outreach

Columbia Dining is commited to supporting the community. The department donates about 100 pounds of food each week to surrounding churches.  Surplus food and equipment is sent to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue as well as Broadway Community Service Pantry at Broadway Presbyterian Church, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen located just across Broadway from the University.

Columbia Dining works with the Columbia’s Community Impact Food Pantry. Each Friday, volunteers cook a meal for about 100 homeless and low-income guests. Columbia Dining donates packaged foods so that guests may choose items to take with them.

The department also has an ongoing relationship with Yes Solutions, a local organization dedicated to supporting neighborhood families in need.

Additionally, for each response received in the annual Dining Customer Service Satisfaction Survey, Dining Services makes an equivalent contribution to a local community organization.

Dining also supports our students taking action to benefit the local community, by providing donations for student group fundraisers and special events, such as the Run for Hunger, CCI Hunger Dinner, the Child Rights Conference, Relay for Life, and various student council fundraising events.



ReUse and Recycling 

Trayless Dining

Columbia Dining went trayless in all dining halls in Fall 2009. Removing 1,400 trays has resulted in an estimated savings of 3,000 gallons of water per day and approximately 50 pounds of food waste per meal. Less food waste means that more unserved food is available for City Harvest, a non-profit agency whose mission is to end hunger in New York City and the surrounding boroughs.


In Spring 2012, an in-vessel composter suitable for urban use began operating at Ruggles Hall on the Morningside Campus. It has been in use throughout the 2012-2013 academic year, with Dining Services working with EcoReps and residents of GreenBorough to provide 20 gallons of food scraps each day. Four days each week, two EcoReps place scraps and two gallons of wood chips into the composter; two GreenBorough residents take over on the fifth day. In April, one and a half 96-gallon bins of compost from the year’s activity were delivered to the Community Garden on Pupin Plaza.

The Doe Fund

Columbia Dining recovers and recycles about 4,000 gallons of cooking oil annually through The Doe Fund, whose Ready, Willing and Able program trains men for future employment – and gives them immediate employment in picking up cooking oil from restaurants and other dining locations. They then work with METRO Biofuels to recycle the oil into biodiesel fuel.

Surplus Goods

Columbia Dining and University Event Management donate surplus kitchen equipment, including pots, pans, dishware, restaurant equipment, tables and chairs to YES! Solutions, a local agency.  These goods are distributed in the five boroughs of New York City.

Service Items

The estimated 6.6 million napkins used annually in Columbia Dining are made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled content.  Biodegradable plates, bowls, cups, and flatware are used in all dining areas except John Jay.  Reusable dishes, utensils and cups are used in John Jay Dining Hall.

Reusable Containers

Columbia Dining provides reusable eco-containers for to-go food. Students on a meal plan receive a free token to exchange for an eco-container. The American-made, polypropylene containers are microwave and dishwasher safe, with microbial protection to control stains and odor-causing bacteria. At the end of their useful life, the containers are recyclable.

At all Columbia Dining Blue Java Coffee Bar retail locations, customers who purchase a reusable mug receive a discount on coffee or tea purchased using the mug. Students and staff receive coffee refills for 99 cents, whatever the size of the mug.

Bottles, Cans, Cardboard

Dining services recycles more than one million bottles and cans as well as more than 150,000 cardboard boxes each year.


Green Monday 

On Mondays, most Americans move from the freedom of the weekend to a structured work or school week . Eating meatless on Monday may reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It helps to reduce our carbon footprint and save resources like fresh water and fossil fuels. People who eat less meat also tend to have a lower body weight. Green Monday is observed in Columbia Dining every week. A vegetarian or vegan option is available at all stations each day of the week. Learn more about the Green Monday initiative here at Columbia and take the pledge to go green.