As the MCS Kitchen (La Cocina) looked forward to celebrating the 47th Annual Earth Day, we took a moment to consider the ways in which our food program supports Manhattan Country School’s sustainability mission, which took root around the same time that Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, conceived of a day in celebration of the Earth.
A big part of our efforts to connect our day-to-day life in the city to our farm-based education program in the Catskills comes in sourcing locally and sustainably produced foods, including meat from the MCS farm. We also prepare the vast majority of our food from scratch using whole foods, which are better for our bodies and for our world because they take far less energy and resources to produce than heavily preserved, packaged foods.
In addition to our concern for the kinds of food we eat, our entire community works conscientiously to support a healthy, natural environment. Composting food scraps; using real (not disposable) dishes, cups and silverware; minimizing food waste; and serving lunch family-style, which incurs less waste than cafeteria-style food service, are all important components of our focus on sustainability.
Mayor de Blasio’s Zero Waste Schools mandates that all public and private schools in New York City participate in the city’s efforts to contribute zero waste to landfills by 2030, mainly by meeting New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) guidelines for separating recyclables and setting out recycling and garbage for collection. MCS, along with other schools throughout the city, both public and private, goes further by collecting food scraps and compostable paper for daily pick-up by DSNY. (You’ve probably seen the large brown bins on the sidewalk as you arrive at school). Composting goes a long way toward minimizing the amount of trash we send to land fills, and it also creates another resource: fresh, fertile dirt used in city parks.
Before we put food in the compost bin, we try to reduce waste by freezing surplus ingredients like milk and fruit to use in baking; making stock out of chicken bones and Parmesan rinds; and recycling leftover rice, beans and tofu in our homemade veggie burgers.
We use BPA-free plastic dishes and cups, and stainless-steel silverware, rather than paper and plastic dishes at lunch, and when we occasionally have to use disposable dishes, we make sure to purchase recycled and compostable paper goods. The mound of dishes filling our sinks around 1:30 p.m. each day is testament alone to our commitment to the environment! We are also working to make sure all of our cleaning supplies are green to protect the health of our community and our environment.
Earth Day offers us a moment each year, not to be stewards of our world for a day, but to celebrate our progress over time and to reinvigorate our commitment to the daily work still to be done. As MCS celebrates its own 50th anniversary, it is inspiring and affirming to find so many examples of our community’s sincere and dedicated commitment to our planet.