Lutherans go sustainable

Assistant to the Editor

The refectory at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 E. 55th St., has been changing the way it does business with a focus on sustainability.

Ben Randall, a native of Northern Michigan who worked at Chicago hotels and restaurants before becoming the refectory’s chef, has overseen a host of operational changes since he arrived last May.

The kitchen was refitted with new equipment last summer, a move Randall said boosted energy efficiency.

“It was all in good order, but holy smokes was it old,” Randall said of the kitchen’s equipment, which according to him included coolers dating back to the late 1960s.

The refectory also now has a compost bin maintained by the Green Zone, an environmentalist organization at the school, and has switched to using compostable materials.

Instead of buying cheaper styrofoam cups, the cafeteria gives out composatible cups made of corn plastic Randall says disintegrate within 45 to 90 days and cost around nine cents each. Also compostable are the refectory’s napkins, silverware and plant fiber to-go boxes, according to Randall.

In addition to the refectory’s equipment and materials, the food it serves has changed, too.

Randall said the cafeteria’s menu was entirely rewritten when he first started working there and that “it was always our goal to make more and more of our items completely from scratch.”

While compostable to-go materials are pricier, Randall said they “make up the cost” by cooking food from scratch, adding that “it’s just always going to be cheaper to buy ingredients than processed products.”

The chef still plans to do more: he is contact with Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, a distributor of organic, locally-grown food in Milwaukee and Chicago. The refectory will begin ordering its produce from them, he said.
“I don’t necessarily think of sustainability as a movement so much as just how I operate. And I hope to raise [my kids] with that same concept, that same ethic,” he said.