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A Talk with John Turenne
President and founder of Sustainable Food Systems, LLC and former Executive Chef at Yale discusses food, sustainability, and his role working with Green Mountain College
Please describe your consultation firm Sustainable Food Systems, LLC. What led to its formation?
After spending 20+ years working in institutional food services for Aramark – a contract company just like Chartwells – in roles ranging from Chef to Food Service Director (and everything in between), I was charged with the responsibility to “figure out” how to implement a seasonal, local and sustainable food program into Yale University.
It was in the process of understanding what this entailed, that I came to realize that all the decisions I’d been making on food over the years had been wrong. Up until then, my focus was almost always on “the bottom line” or the financials. I never stopped and realized that my decisions impacted so much and so many. Our local economy, the environment, social and nutritional issues came to the forefront. I knew that this was not just some new fad that would fade off into the distance like so many others. Sustainable food was a necessity. It was far too important to not accomplish, and to do it right!
We successfully implemented a sustainable model in a conventional place at Yale and many came to ask “how” it was done. It was then that I realized my calling was to help others in the institutional food world make the same change. So I founded Sustainable Food Systems, LLC. A company whose mission it is to help others achieve a social, ecological, nutritional and delicious difference in their business through the way they think about food.
What is your impetus for advocacy of local food?
Let’s face it, less and less people and organizations are controlling more and more of our food today. At this rate, who’s going to be ultimately left making the decisions? Local food has too many reasons going for it NOT to be important. Freshness, quality, less energy usage, support of community and open space are just a few of the benefits of buying local.
What was your role in the block course?
I hope I was a voice of reason in regards to the food service operator and the realization of change in their world. Having lived that life for so long, I am able to shed light on the complexities and realities of what it’s like to manage institutional food service and what it takes to change it.
What are your thoughts on the GMC Farm & Food Project?
Green Mountain College has the opportunity to make a tremendous impact in its vision and its future. In the mission, it states that the focus on our environment is “the unifying theme that underlies its academic and co-curricular programs.” It further states that this educational approach “…is complemented by campus life opportunities.” These comments could not be more prescient. Society is starting to ask questions about the viability and sustainability of our food systems and the impact the choices we make have on our health, the wellbeing of our communities and our environment.
Questions are now starting to be asked within institutions about where their food is coming from, who grew it, in what manner and with what values? The answers will ultimately have both short and long term ecological, economic and human health ramifications that we can no longer ignore. GMC is starting to address these issues and is beginning to assume the responsibility to address society’s concern for food, its systems and its societal impact through its curriculum and student life experiences. What better opportunity might there be than to educate tomorrow’s leaders in real-life learning experiences so they can make the right decisions when their time comes. It is essential that the college address these tasks. There is no room for falling short on its mission.
What is your view of Green Mountain College’s drive towards sustainability, both in the classroom and in campus greening projects?
I’ve never had the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderfully dedicated group of students who not only were passionate about their beliefs, but who followed through with the work involved with trying to attain these beliefs. And there’s some great pizza makers in the group too!
What advice can you give to those involved with the GMC Farm & Food Project?
Don’t stop doing what you’re doing. It will seem like the world is making change hard (and it is), but you all should know that you’re doing the right thing. When you’re being challenged and resisted by those who say it can’t be done, know that in truth it can be done. And in fact, our future depends on it!