'Farm to Fork' Dinner Spotlights Pollinators' Place on the Plate
Saint Louis University students met unlikely members of DineSLU’s culinary team during
the Oct. 19 “Farm to Fork” dinner hosted in Grand Hall’s dining room – the over 4,000
species of bees native to North America that are integral to producing many of the
foods students eat daily.
The pollinator-themed dinner was a joint effort for DineSLU and University researchers
Gerardo Camilo, Ph.D., Damon Hall, Ph.D., and their students. Camilo, Hall and graduate
and undergraduate students in their labs manned an information table in the dining
hall while special labels informed hungry students about the impact bees had on their
potato and leek soup and ratatouille.
“This was a unique partnership opportunity to raise awareness about native bees, their
role in the food supply, and how SLU is helping the bees,” Amye O’Neal, DTR, DineSLU
nutrition coordinator, said. DineSLU staff approached the Center for Sustainability’s
researchers after being inspired by a similar pollinator dinner hosted by the St.
Louis Zoo and through DineSLU’s work with the University’s Green Billiken initiative.
After O’Neal spoke with faculty and graduate students interested in pollinator researcher,
DineSLU set about creating the night’s menu.
“The St. Louis Zoo Pollinator’s Dinner, while impressive, was intimidating to replicate,”
O’Neal recalled. “So, instead, we created a menu that took advantage of available
local products, highlighted how specific native bee species pollinate those products
and could still feed approximately 1,200 customers. Our primary focus was making as
many pollinator tie-ins as possible; the easiest tie-ins were produce.”
The night’s menu included spicy butternut squash and black bean chili with quinoa,
potato and leek soup, ratatouille, an autumn chickpea salad, an autumn nectar flatbread,
southwestern succotash, and other entrees influenced by bees.
For Camilo, the event offered another way to integrate the research that he, Hall
and their students have undertaken on pollinators like bees and the crisis of colony
collapse and other issues that impact the insects including pesticide use.
“Many people are aware of the pollinator crisis, and may have a rudimentary idea of
the overall impact, but recent research has shown that most people can't identify
most bees, or how this crisis affects them personally,” Camilo explained. “Effective
policy changes come about as a consequence of that knowledge and understanding.” Camilo’s
lab hosts “bee parties” for students and has also worked on outreach activities across
the City of St. Louis.
Camilo joined his students in talking with other SLU diners who stopped by to examine
a case of bee specimens, literature from local bee groups and organic farming and
gardening groups, and Green Billiken resources.
“This was extremely easy given that all our students enjoy talking about bees and
pollination,” Camilo said. “Once the students gain the knowledge and experience they
become highly motivated to share what they have learned.”
DineSLU holds “Farm to Fork” events once per semester and seeks to partner with the
SLU community, O’Neal said, and discussions are underway about a future pollinator
dinner, potentially in the spring semester.
“Thanks largely in part to the organic and local farming movement, we’re seeing a
progressive reconnection between ourselves and the food we consume,” O’Neal said.
“Many people are interested in ‘where’ the food is coming from or ‘what’ is in the
food. But how many also stop to consider ‘how’ those plants and products are created?
Since we already work with Green Billiken and SLU Sustainability on a number of other
dynamics of sustainability, native bees proved to be a fun but low awareness topic.
I certainly learned a ton about the native bees!”