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A Look into Lil’s: Oxford’s Zero Waste Dining Hall

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When one looks back on their college years, many things come to mind: the people, the events, and (eventually) the food. Lil’s Dining Hall, affectionately named after former dining hall employee Lillian C. Long, is the hub of all things food at Oxford College. Alumna Lisa Goetz-Steenson (Oxford College ‘94) looks back on her times at good old Lil’s.

“To be honest, it was really the only place to eat around here,” Goetz-Steenson said. “A lot of people didn’t have cars, so we always ate at Lil’s. It was a good gathering place where everyone just hung out. If you had your food card you were set, and it was one of the fellowship places. The food wasn’t fantastic, but it was edible.”

Goetz-Steenson recalls her interactions with Lil, noting how Lil would try to get to know all the students who frequented the cafeteria.

“Having Lil in the dining hall added a lot of personality to going there,” Goetz-Steenson said. “She was like everyone’s grandma and was always real friendly and nice – the definition of Southern woman charm.”

Other alumni echo Goetz-Steenson’s sentiments.

“Lil left a legacy of students at Oxford College who will always remember her and love her,” wrote alumna Nadia Ali (Oxford College ‘89) on Long’s tribute website. “She was an Oxford tradition and I am so happy that the Oxford dining hall bears her name – as it should, for we never referred to it as anything other than “Lil’s.””

Much has changed since Goetz-Steenson and Ali’s time at Oxford. For one, the dining hall no longer houses the beloved Lil, as she retired in 2004. Also, Emory Campus Dining switched to Bon Appétit Management Company as the new food services vendor in the fall of 2015, bringing with it a fresh, nutritious take on campus dining.

According to Executive Chef Duke Walsh, approximately 50 percent of all goods purchased is from within an eight state region, which is what’s considered to be “Emory local.” Local farms, including the Oxford Organic Farm, provide the dining hall with fresh ingredients for daily meals.

“Right now we use about 30 vendors to get the food in here,” Walsh said. “That’s unheard of. Usually chefs will use about five vendors. … [The locations we choose to work with] are usually somebody that we believe in, somebody who’s got a good story – we don’t just jump out at anybody. We got to be a good fit for each other.”

 

Students’ suggestions for the dining hall meal are always welcome, Walsh said. Whether it’s for special occasions such as birthdays or a school club event, the kitchen staff is happy to work with students to create a special meal. In the past, Lil’s has collaborated with students to create a Diwali dinner and Chinese Student Union events.

“It’s a good way for us to connect with the students and it makes it fun for us as well,” Walsh said. “I tell them [the students] to just give me authentic recipes and we’ll try to work it out … It’s one of the things I love about my job – learning how other people do it, how other cultures do it, how things have evolved, cooking procedures stuff like that. It’s pretty cool. Any time we get an opportunity to do that, we try to.”

In addition to staying connected with the student body, Lil’s is committed to a culture of sustainability. Nothing goes to landfill. The leftover food that students send down the conveyor belt is composted, any packaging material is recycled, the “plasticware” – such as the disposable utensils in the to-go boxes – are biodegradable, and all unserved leftover food gets sent to local food shelters. According to Walsh, Lil’s is the first restaurant in Georgia to be Food Recovery Certified. Since the program was first implemented six months ago, the dining hall has donated over 3,500 pounds of food.

In the spring semester, Oxford’s dining hall will be relocated to the property across the street. While the dining staff will remain the same, new technology will allow additions and modifications to the current menu. Students can anticipate California-style pizzas, omelettes, à la carte style dishes, and a bigger salad bar.

“Everything’s changing,” Walsh said. “The building’s big and beautiful. There’s a new platform, so it’ll be a whole new café.”

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The student news site of Oxford College of Emory University
A Look into Lil’s: Oxford’s Zero Waste Dining Hall