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2012 CVAs: Nate Jackson, IUPUI

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Part of Nate Jackson's sustainability efforts involves growing as much food on campus as possible. - BRANDON KNAPP
  • Brandon Knapp
  • Part of Nate Jackson's sustainability efforts involves growing as much food on campus as possible.

As executive chef of IUPUI Food Service, Nate Jackson is in charge of serving thousands of students a day. But even though he reports to work there daily, Jackson is not employed by IUPUI. He manages its sprawling network of 14 food venues across campus, including the campus daycare and a staggeringly large catering operation, under the aegis of Chartwells, a subsidiary of Compass Group North America — one of the largest foodservice management companies in the world.

Ironically, Chartwells offers a means for Jackson to put forth his vision for running a food service operation that emphasizes locally and ethically grown and produced food. This vision happens to be in line with IUPUI as a whole: the university has made sustainability an institutional priority, including recycling and energy use and waste reduction, in addition to a more sustainable — and by extension, healthier — approach to food service.

Jackson's approach includes practices already championed by Chartwells, including sourcing from local family farmers and Fair Trade growers, reducing the use of antibiotics in chicken, turkey and pork; supporting sustainable agriculture and seafood purchasing policies; and promoting farm animal welfare with 100 percent use of cage free shell eggs and the elimination of artificial rBGH from milk and yogurt products.

Most of the food prepared in Campus Center kitchens is made from scratch — from the seasoned beef for tacos to house-made hummus and stuffed grape leaves. Jackson does business with local and sustainable vendors wherever possible, from fair trade Caribou coffee to greens picked from the IUPUI gardens.

Students may not even be aware of the attention paid to what goes in their sandwich, but Jackson believes that offering healthier and more sustainable offerings will pay off in the end — and fast food doesn't fit into that equation.

"Why do I want to hand out something that somebody drives by every day, like a Burger King? I would much rather serve something that people can't get anywhere else, so we are the place to get it."

So while Jackson is enjoying making changes to the IUPUI menu — or menus, as it were — he's also relishing the challenges of making change on an academic level.

"Over this past year I've just really kind of been preaching to the staff and administration and the students in one way or the other the direction I'd like to take food service, not only here at IUPUI but in the industry. And I'd like to take the same focus that universities have on academics and fostering students' critical thinking and their life skills."

Jackson's work is laid out for him, helping students make those crucial connections between food, its sources, and the impact of each food choice we make. Jackson's care for the students, his "kids," is at the heart of it all. "I truly believe that, if you want to make an impact, if you want to be a great chef, you have to really care about your customer."

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