Sustainable and Just Catering

April 2018

A Guide for UC Berkeley Departments on Sustainable and Just Catering

As UC Berkeley provides refreshments for hundreds of meeting and events weekly, catering plays a significant role in the UC Berkeley food procurement landscape. Our campus has an opportunity to provide “sustainable and just” catering  by working with vendors who meet a matrix of values. The Berkeley Food Institute has put together the following guidelines based on the combined values of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Environmental Sustainability; Food Recovery; Health and Nutrition; and Labor.  

The guidelines below are designed to assist departments in working with vendors to provide sustainable and just food. We acknowledge that these guidelines are a high ceiling, and that food service is very challenging business with a low margin of profit. We also recognize that campus departments are often working with a small budget for catering. Thankfully, our local catering community has an abundance of catering businesses who share these values, and many offer affordable options.

Sustainable and Just Catering Vendor List

In 2019, our team developed a survey to track the business practices of caterers who provide service to campus, using the detailed criteria from the guidelines. Vendors rated their own practices, and by pledging to share this information publicly have “certified” the truthfulness of their responses. Please consider supporting the wonderful businesses on the Sustainable and Just Catering Vendor List for your meetings and events!

Have suggestions of a caterer to add to survey and add to this list? Let us know here.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Ensure equal contract opportunities for small, diverse, and disadvantaged businesses, such as:.

  • Disabled Veteran-owned Business: The business is at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled on a daily basis by veterans with service-related disabilities.
  • Disadvantaged Business: The business is at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled on a daily basis by minorities, socially and economically disadvantaged women, and individuals who are qualified for DBE certification.
  • Immigrant-owned Business: The business is at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled on a daily basis by foreign-born persons.
  • Woman-owned Business: The business is at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled on a daily basis by one or more women.
  • Minority-owned Business: The business is at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled on a daily basis by Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American persons.
  • Locally-owned Small Business: Small, locally-owned, or community-based business as opposed to large national chains/corporations.
  • Social Enterprise: For example, a business that supports job training programs for disadvantaged communities such as formerly incarcerated people, homeless people, at-risk youth, etc.

Go Deeper:

Environmental Sustainability

Support vendors who procure ingredients that are local, organic, and socially and environmentally responsible. Ensure your department conforms to Zero Waste event guidelines.

Sustainable Ingredients

  • Local and Community-based: Support small and mid-size community-based farms and food businesses; foods can be traced to nearby farms, ranches, and businesses that are locally-owned.
  • Ecologically Sound: The food production practices conserve biodiversity and minimize toxic substances, gas emissions, natural resource depletion, and environmental degradation (such as certified organic practices).
  • Humane: Animals are raised in a low-stress environment allowing to express natural behavior, and are raised with no added hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics.

Zero Waste

Work with vendors to bring catered food in reusable, recyclable, and compostable containers. Ensure that department-provided serviceware and other event materials (such as decorations) also meet these standards.

Go Deeper:

Food Recovery

Support vendors who practice food waste reduction and recovery. Encourage your department to reduce food waste: participate in the UC Berkeley Food Recovery Program to divert edible food waste to the campus Food Pantry, and compost non-edible waste.

Food Waste Reduction

Reduce the volume of surplus food generated by working with vendors to order reasonable quantities for event needs.

Food Reuse

  • Alleviate Food Insecurity: Support vendors who donate extra food to food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters. As a department, participate in the Food Recovery Program to safely recover small amounts of edible food internally to department staff and students and to divert large amounts of leftover food to the campus food pantry.
  • Compost: Compost non-edible food waste to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
  • Industrial Reuse: Support vendors who divert food scraps and non-edible food waste for animal feed, energy production, etc.

Go Deeper:

Health and Nutrition

Choose healthier food and beverage choices to improve the diet and health of our campus population.

  • Offer tap water rather than bottled water.
  • Offer a variety of fresh vegetables.
  • Serve small, right-sized portions.
  • Serve fresh fruit as a side or dessert.
  • Select whole grains for breads and baked goods.
  • Select healthy proteins and at least one plant-based, vegetarian option.
  • Serve dressings and condiments on the side.

Go Deeper:


Support vendors who provide equal, decent, and humane working conditions for their employees. Consider using cooperatively-owned businesses.

Food Business Labor Conditions

  • Basic Benefits: All employees have legally required basic benefits: medicare, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and family and medical leave. Prioritize vendors who provide their employees health insurance, which is legally required for businesses with 50+ employees.
  • Fair Promotion Policies: Have a clear promotion policy to prevent discrimination, retain good employees, and ensure promotion is based on qualification.
  • Living Wages: Wages minimally match the living wage for the city where the vendor operates; provide the same wages for people who work for tips and those who do not.
  • Non-discrimination: Eliminate any policy, practice, attitude, and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes based on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, medical condition, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, service in the uniformed services, or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.
  • Sexual Harassment Policies: Have a sexual harassment policy providing disciplinary measure and procedure for lodging complaints about sexual harassment, and investigate related claims.

Cooperative Businesses

Support worker-owned businesses—those that are owned and controlled by the people who provide the products, supplies, or service.

Fair Trade Products

Ask vendors to provide Fair Trade-certified products for internationally-sourced items such as coffee, sugar, chocolate, tea, honey, and fruit.

Go Deeper:

Ease of Payment to Caterers

Departments can pay for catering through three methods: A purchase order set up in advance with a vendor; an after-the-fact payment to a vendor; or via reimbursement to staff, faculty, or students who pay for catering through their personal credit cards. There is a disincentive for caterers to do business directly with the University, as Berkeley’s default payment time is Net 30 days, an inequitable burden on small businesses. Yet it is also a strain on Berkeley employees to pay upfront. To address this issue, departments can request that vendors be set up as Net Zero in Berkeley’s Supply Chain Management System. When filling out the UC Berkeley Substitute W9 and Supplier Information Form note that the vendor should be set up as Net Zero. To change an existing vendor to Net Zero, email Lorane Washington.

Download a printable pdf of this guide here.

Data collection by Serena Chan, Angel Tsai-Hsuan Chung, and Rosalie Z. Fanshel.

Special thanks to project advisors: Robin Baca, Roesia Gerstein, Kim Guess, Samantha Lubow, Meg Prier, Teofilo Reyes, David Triebwasser, and Pete Vargas.