Food and Catering

Description of Environmental Purchasing Policy

The Food and Catering section of the Environmental Purchasing Policy covers the following Purchasing Services commodity clusters: Bottled Water, Catering, Coffee Services, Food/Beverage, and Water.

 According to the Policy, all coffee sourced is required to be Fair Trade certified.  The Policy additionally recommends that all food procured – whether directly or through a caterer – be locally sourced, USDA Organic or Northeast Organic Farm Association certified, and/or Fair Trade certified whenever possible.  Purchasers are also strongly encouraged to do business with caterers who take substantial steps to reduce their waste at events. 

A sample list of suggested caterers currently offering sustainable food services in the NYU area is included at the end of this section. 

Waste-Reducing Alternatives to Purchasing This Product

Bottled Water: If you are considering purchasing bottled water for events or meetings, explore the alternative of using reusable pitchers, glasses and tap water instead.  For more information on the extremely high quality of New York City’s tap water, consult the Water section (Section 13) of this Guide. 

Excess Catered Food: Typically, there are fewer attendees than RSVP to an event, and caterers frequently overestimate the quantity of food required per person; the result can be quite a bit of left-over food. Use your discretion, but some departments have found it both cost-effective and waste-efficient to order for half of the number of RSVPs at events that aren’t near mealtimes, and three-quarters of the RSVPs for events near mealtimes.  

What to Consider When Procuring Food and Catering Services

Location and seasonality: Source food grown and processed as close to New York City as possible.  If you are buying food directly, you can purchase from sources like farmers’ markets and food co-ops to ensure that your ingredients are local and in season.  If you are hiring a caterer, ask them about the origins of the food they serve.  If they can’t tell you, consider exploring other options.

Organic and Fair Trade Certification: USDA or NOFA Certified organic food, and food grown with minimal use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, is better for both environmental and human health.  When food must be sourced internationally, Fair Trade certification ensures it has been grown, processed, and traded with fair labor practices.  When purchasing food directly, look for these certifications when possible.  When hiring a caterer, ask them if they source any food that meets organic or Fair Trade criteria, and give preference to caterers who do.

Animal health and welfare standards: When sourcing animal-based foods and beverages, choose free-range and cage-free meats and poultry, and hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and dairy products.  Look for these products when buying food directly; when hiring a caterer, ask them about their sourcing practices, and give preference to caterers who adhere to higher animal health and welfare standards.

Vegan and vegetarian options: Include vegan and vegetarian meal options when procuring food for catered events. These options are commonly requested, and tend to have a much lower environmental impact than dishes that include meat.

Waste: Events where food is served often generate a great deal of waste made up of disposable serving and packaging materials, as well as excess food.  Use non-disposable flatware, cups and platters whenever possible. If these options are unavailable, use compostable or recyclable packaging and serving materials, but make sure you find a place to compost them.  If you are hiring a caterer, ask them about their waste-reduction strategies, and work with them to procure as many reusable items as possible.  In order to reduce the amount of food waste generated by an event, explore partnership with organizations like City Harvest, which will collect excess food for donation if it meets certain criteria; alternately, arrange to compost excess food.  Caterers who prioritize sustainability may already have a mechanism in place for dealing with food waste in an environmentally responsible manner. 

Documentation: When you’re working with a caterer, make sure they know that sustainability is a priority to you, and don’t be afraid to ask them to provide documentation of their sustainable practices! Displaying this information alongside catered food encourages sustainability awareness and environmentally responsible eating, and incentivizes caterers to increase sustainable practices and food choices.

Alternative menu options: Although it is always preferable to support a caterer who puts sustainable business practices at the forefront of its mission, sometimes it’s simply not possible.  For example, the Kimmel Center is currently contractually obligated to have all events catered by Aramark, but they do offer both an organic and sustainable menu. Many caterers who do not prioritize sustainability overall still provide alternative menus which are far more environmentally friendly than their standard fare, such as organic, local, or vegetarian menus. 

Purchasing power: Conveying your strong preference for sustainable food choices and catering practices to caterers not currently offering those services can help shape future business practices, and protect your health and the environment. 

Possible Caterers

Below is a list of caterers in the NYU area that offer sustainable options. This is not a comprehensive list, and the Sustainability Task Force has not formally evaluated the vendors listed. However, based on thoughtful research, we believe that the following vendors are a good starting point for purchasers in search of sustainable products and services.

For more options, we encourage you to utilize the Eat Well Guide. 

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions of vendors for inclusion in future versions of the Environmental Purchasing Guide, please leave a comment in the box below.


1 Comment »

  1. Trish Kenlon said

    Check out Bridgewaters To Go, they’re awesome!

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