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EATIN' GREEN FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Scrunched in the Great Hall between mystery meat station one and mystery meat station two is an ice tray with cold salads. The only time most people see it is when the line for Sitar gets too long. In the back of the tray, left side, soaked in oil, vinegar and squished among tomatoes and onions, is the only locally grown food in the Great Hall.

One cucumber. Well, maybe more than one cucumber. They're chopped so small it's hard to tell.

Mike Moroni admits this with a smile. As the ranking chef on West Campus for Bon Appetit, the mega food service conglomerate, it's his job to supply students with as much organic and locally-grown products as possible.

But it's also his job to get food out the door, DukeCards swiped and Duke dining in the black. And for many students that means grabbing a spicy tuna roll and a Vitamin Water on the way to class.

Believe it or not, there aren't a ton of organic tuna farms within a 150 mile radius of Durham.

That's why, many nights, the only local food you'll find in the Great Hall or Marketplace comes sprinkled as a garnish in the form of clove or basil. If you're hankering for some Raleigh-grown sage, Bon Appetit has you covered.

It's not all bad news for ecopicurians looking for a green fix at meals. Bon Appetit promotes itself as "food services for a sustainable future" and it's not all bogus. Go to their web site and you'll find a carbon diet calculator and a guide to the "circle of responsibility" between the consumer and the grower.

In the massive industrial refrigerators buried in the basement of the West Union building, Moroni says finding locally-grown food in the quantities demanded by the University is not as easy as it seems.

"Every campus kind of fends for itself," Moroni says. "It's a lot harder on the East Coast to keep things local."

Few students get to see the backside of the Great Hall-and maybe few would care to know how their meals are prepared. There's nothing glamorous about cardboard boxes filled to the brim with produce from gigantic industrial farms from across the country.

D'Amico mushrooms from Avondale, Pa. Bok choy from California. Together, the ingredients in your meal might have traveled 10,000 miles together-even more if you were particularly frisky at the salad bar.

Or, on a lucky day, the meat might come from Harris Acres Farm, a North Carolina ranch with what Moroni calls a rich, "gamey" taste. A cut of antibiotic, cornfed beef from Harris Acres costs twice as much as the standard chop from a farm in Iowa.

And even if the ranch does manage to slaughter enough cows in a given week to satisfy the cravings of the Duke community (that between 40 and 60 pounds of animal, but who's counting?), that's no guarantee that students will walk past Panda Express to try an adventurous new dish in the Great Hall.

"Even the staff, they say 'this is what an apple looks like, this is what a hamburger should taste like," Moroni explains.

To emphasize how downright funky some organic produce looks, Moroni produces an apple that looks like it made it-barely-through Hiroshima. He offers a Towerview reporter a bite. The reporter says no. Emphatically.

"The issue is, how do you sell someone an apple that looks like this?" Moroni says.

There's nothing wrong with valuing taste over geography. Chick-fil-A probably wouldn't be in business without that philosophy. Anyway, students like Nana Asante could do with one less culinary concern.

"For all I know my food comes from Argentina," says Asante, a freshman. "Hopefully the conditions where my food is grown are OK, but it's something that I don't think about too much."

Asante could be

forgiven if she doesn't arrange her meals around when Moroni can whip up his Rose Hill, North Carolina-grown black eyed pea soup (which is excellent, by the way). But campus demand is definitely shifting toward green-oriented dining, according to data from Duke Dining Services.

The Refectory at the Divinity School, which promotes itself as a "green" café with local products and organic ingredients, sells more midday meals than the Great Hall, says Jim Wulforst, director of dining services. It's not a close race, either-up to 750 students, faculty and staff flock to the Refectory for lunch, compared to approximately 500 in the cavernous Great Hall.

That's in spite of the fact that a standard Refectory lunch with drink and dessert runs up to $15, excluding the opportunity cost of the noontime line.

And the Refectory's new location in the School of Law is cannibalizing other on-campus vendors to the tune of 500 lunches per day, Wulforst says. Other vendors will have to shape up or risk losing relevancy, he says.

"We're not seeing new business growth on campus, we're seeing a shift based on menu," he says. "The guys that aren't paying attention need to pay attention."

Then he gets excited.

"Is the Loop going to go organic?" he asks. "Is McDonalds?"

For the last one, he has to let out a laugh.

"Look how long it took McDonalds to get healthy," he says, trailing off.

All it takes is one cucumber to get started.

With reporting by Christine Hall.

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