Maya Vincelli: September's Sustainability Champion
Maya is the Assistant Director of Retail Operations. She oversees 8:15 at Boatwright, EveryThingConvenience Store, Deanâ€™s Den, Passport CafÃ© and Louâ€™s. Maya has worked at University of Richmond for 13 years.
Below is our interview with her exploring how she champions sustainability in Dining at UR.
What initially sparked an interest in sustainable dining for you?
"I think initially it was because I grew up poor, with a backyard garden and a great chef mom that was always finding a way to stretch a dollar or make something from the garden or what was in the kitchen.
"Later in life- this same concept reappeared as I was working in fine dining. Generally â€œstaff mealsâ€ (or the meals that you have with your co-workers before the restaurant opens for dinner) are comprised of odds and ends like carrot tops or broccoli stems (the stuff customers donâ€™t really want), and bits and bobs of vegetables or meats. You really have to use your knowledge, skills and craft to make something that is both affordable enough to feed a crowd, and delicious enough to feed to a bunch of chefs! This experience allowed me to think about food and food waste differently.
"Currently in my role here, I am aware of the extremely fortunate position we are in. We are not lacking resources by any means, but in order to do business both ethically and responsibly- we still have to think about resources as being finite, and encourage ourselves to be creative. This helps us be better business people, and make better, more sustainable decisions in the long run. Each of my managers have sustainability goals in their yearly plan because of this need to be responsible with our resources.
"Sustainability encompasses much more than food waste- it is how we manage our businesses, behaviors we have in the kitchen, which ones we espouse (recycling, finding alternate streams for waste, using reusable cups and so on), and how we take care of our equipment just to name a few things."
Which conference did you recently attend and what are a couple key things you learned there?
"I recently attended the Menus of Change conference at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York. Along with a coworker- Chef Tyler Betzhold (senior catering chef). The Menus of Change Conference is co run by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
"The goal of Menus of Change is to encourage environmental stewardship and sustainability, social responsibility and healthy menus in food service. Much of what we learned was how to incorporate more plant forward menu items that everyone â€“ even people that are not vegan or vegetarian could enjoy, but we also learned about sustainable practices that we can adopt and heard from some industry leaders about how they are applying the concepts from Menus of Change to their business models.
"Because Tyler and I work in such different parts of our Universityâ€™s food service we were able to collaborate during the conference, and brought back a presentation to show to campus food service leadership. Every manager, director and menu planner attended one of two sessions that we held, to discuss what we learned at Menus of Change. Much of what we learned is already being incorporated into current menus- like offering more plant based menu items with meat as an add on- instead of offering meat on every entrÃ©e, and offering more vegan entrees in the dining center. Weâ€™re fortunate to work in a department that is always thinking ahead- so much of what we shared was adopted very early."
What are some great sustainability-related things Dining is working on and how can students be involved?
"My favorite thing that we do by far is supporting local vendors. The University is really good at bringing in small, women and minority owned businesses, and our purchasing department is very supportive of our goals, and understands that we all love working with local vendors to provide interesting dining opportunities for our students.
"If a student finds a great local vendor- they should tell me! I always want to talk to those companies.
"Additionally, I would say our greatest challenge on campus is that of trayless dining. I have adopted this practice when I eat in the dining center many years ago- and it not only helps me be more decisive, but helps me waste far less. Students here are really attached to their trays! So I think if students reading this want to participate in an easy form of sustainable dining that would be a great first step."
Is there anything else you feel the campus community should know about sustainability and Dining at UR?
"Everyone in Dining Services is passionate about what we do. We are so lucky to have the creative permission that our students grant us to try new and interesting things all the time, but that sometimes means trying something you have never had before. We love when you do that, it keeps us on our toes! I also encourage anyone to ask me any question they have about sustainable dining so we can work on those things together."