Dani Lee is one of those natural beauties who sparkles all on her own. Had you seen her in the 1970s you might have thought “mellow hippy”, but Dani is full of energy and enthusiasm about  her dream job.

She is the Sustainability Manager for UC Davis Dining Services where, as an employee of Sodexo,  she oversees  myriad tasks . Dining Services feeds over 56,000 meals per week in the three campus dining commons and provides food for 1,000 events per month. It’s Dani’s job to help that division achieve zero waste as part of UC Davis’ goal of zero waste for the whole campus by 2020.

Dani and her team are responsible for:

• Educating clients about their food choices for personal health and for the health of the planet as well as steps individuals can take to reduce waste.

• Training all 700 Dining Services employees on waste sorting and general sustainability.

They are currently diverting 85% of their waste through solid and organic waste recycling programs.

• Working with all the Dining Services food outlets on campus to reduce waste – they are currently diverting 85% of their waste through solid and organic waste recycling programs.  Next, they are looking at reducing thin plastics like gloves and packaging.

• Reducing carbon footprint by buying locally and sustainably grown produce and food.

• Meeting with chefs each week to encourage use of locally and campus grown produce in the various campus menus.

• Meeting with her 20 student sustainability coordinators and interns who help oversee the education programs, a resident garden outside the dining commons, delivering campus grown produce from the UC Davis Student Farm and implementing zero waste programs.

• Overseeing waste reduction and composting programs in food service locations.

• Helping manage the on-campus, UC Davis Farmers Market.

• Supporting and overseeing a variety of events. You may have heard about a couple of the biggies –the recent CA Higher Education Sustainability Conference and UC Davis Farm-to-College.

Dani Leee receives her Eco-Hero award from Cool Davis.
Dani Leee receives her Eco-Hero award from Cool Davis.

In part due to Dani’s efforts with Dining Services, UC Davis was voted America’s #1 Coolest School by Sierra Magazine this past year and ranked number one in the national as well for efforts within foodservice operations.  But she is the first to admit that she couldn’t do it alone. The staff, faculty and management team on campus are very supportive of UC Davis’ commitment to a ‘sustainable second century’.

“It’s a lot of work, no doubt” says Dani, “but I couldn’t do it without my incredible team of passionate managers and directors, students, my colleagues in various campus departments as well as support from our community partners.”

Connections with friends and colleagues at local farms and campus farms lead to new sources of locally grown food; with every new source, the campus’s carbon footprint is reduced that much more and increased transparency is provided to students and customers about the source of the food.

Currently 45% of the produce is coming from within 250 miles of Davis. Locally based Clover Stornetta provides American Humane Certified dairy products and all the white and brown rice served on campus is certified organic grown by UC Davis alum, Michael Bosworth out of Marysville.

Do you put up the extra tomatoes from your yard each summer? Here’s a number to boggle the mind! With the support of Dani’s friends, team members and colleagues, over 12,000 pounds of tomatoes from UC Davis’ Russell Ranch were preserved by the on-campus kitchens last summer yielding 800 gallons of roasted tomato sauce for use during the year. That’s a long hot afternoon of canning, no?

Dani Lee’s morning begins with breakfast next to her rabbit, Bon-Bon and she bikes to work by 9. In her spare time, she is an avid adventurer – just returned from a wilderness trip in Joshua Tree. She is also a vegan and runs Club-Vegan at the Davis Food Co-op Teaching Kitchen (kitty corner from the Co-op) on the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m.  for those looking to lower their carbon footprint by reducing their consumption of animal products.