Engrained: A Model for Sustainable Dining at ASU

As we begin the final week of the spring semester it is interesting to reflect on the stark contrast between this year and the final week of classes from years past.  This year the campus is unusually quiet; the library carrels are empty, the lawns are vacant, and few footsteps are heard in the halls.  While no-one can predict what the fall will bring, we are hoping that it brings back students and the bustle of student activity that charges our vibrant campus. 

We also hope that the fall brings a renewed and galvanized commitment to sustainability and dedication to campus institutions like the Engrained Café profiled here.  Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to care for each other and our shared home, so let’s get going!  

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Carly Wyman. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Carly is the agriculture program instructor for Hui Malama Ola na ‘Oiwi (501(c)3), a native- Hawaiian healthcare organization in Hilo, Hawai’I where she works to improve indigenous Hawaiian health outcomes and promote traditional Hawaiian agricultural practices and crops. 

It had been an action- packed day already when our Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership graduate certificate cohort arrived at Engrained restaurant. Hailing from across the country, from Hawai’i to Connecticut, we had gathered in Tempe for a week- long immersion into the Arizona sustainable food and agriculture scene. Visiting the restaurant’s beautiful space was a welcome reprieve from a busy day of site visits. Students met with Alana Levine, Director of Zero Waste and Grounds Services at ASU Facilities and Krista Hicks O’Brien, Sustainability Manager, Aramark at ASU. A restaurant that walks the walk, Engrained sits on the middle of ASU campus on the top floor of the Memorial Union building and acts as both a teaching space for foodie students, as well as an active eatery for the ASU community.

The restaurant incorporates six sustainability commitments that influence everything from the way the space was built, to what is served on a daily basis, to the artful use of outdoor ambient lighting to reduce reliance on electricity.

These 6 intentions are:

  1. Utilize food resources located within Arizona whenever seasonally available.
  2. Promote and practice waste minimization in operations through food management guidelines, reuse, recycling and composting efforts to sustain natural resources and divert waste from landfills.
  3. Engage in the positive, ethical buying of products and services, aiming to enrich communities and ecosystems around the world.
  4. Provide a healthy environment for guests and staff and minimize the environmental footprint of the restaurant through the purchasing of sustainably sourced materials and energy and water efficient appliances.
  5. Support sustainable food systems causes in the community and provide an experience that helps close the gap between farm and fork.
  6. Reduce fuel use and emissions across transportation practices by looking at new technologies.

Engrained has put these intentions into practice in many ways. Within the restaurant, tables are made of reclaimed wood while the pizza oven is made of recycled glass. Hydroponic lettuce towers decorate the outdoor seating area and lettuce is grown and harvested by the student sustainability club.

The rotating menu utilizes locally available ingredients- with a focus on sourcing from a radius of 150 miles as well as a focus on minimizing food waste. The restaurant has managed to divert an impressive 89% of its waste from the landfill, working with ASU hauler Republic Services that takes waste to the City of Phoenix for recycling, compost sorting, and landfill. There is also an emphasis on vegetarian and plant- based menu items, humanely raised animal products, and Fair Trade certified products.

The restaurant has attained Green restaurant certification from the Green Restaurant Association, which measures many aspects of a restaurant’s footprint, from water and energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, to transparency and education.

Zero Waste and Grounds Services Director Alana Levine shared about some of the other ways that ASU campus incorporates elements of sustainability. Edible landscaping is speckled throughout the campus, including date palms and citrus. These “hyper- local” dates are harvested when ready and sold to support future sustainability programming, as well as being featured at Engrained restaurant.

From the choices of building materials, to the way that the menu is developed, to a commitment to low waste and sustainable transportation methods, the restaurant serves as an educational space for future restaurant operators. Engrained can be a teaching space for sustainable eateries and as a model for incorporating sustainability into campus culture. It is a model that ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership students are inspired by, taking home these principles to our various work in sustainable food systems around the country.

On behalf of the entire ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Cohort, I would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Alana Levine and Krista Hicks O’Brien for giving us the opportunity to visit and learn more about this unique campus dining experience and for all their efforts towards promoting sustainability at ASU.

As we navigate these uncertain times it is more important than ever to have a robust network of food and agriculture policy leaders to make sensible and responsible decisions. Could you be one of those people? Learn more about answering this call by checking out the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Program at ASU