By Molly Majewicz
At the LVAIC Campus Sustainability Conference on February 20th, food on college campuses was a big topic of discussion. In congruence with the keynote speaker’s main message of changing campus ethos, many of the sessions that day featured presentations about how the participating schools were changing the food and dining options in and around campus. For more information about the keynote speech, click here.
In one of the specialized sessions, ethos was recognized from an important angle: the food industry. It should be common knowledge that the American food system has a vice grip on production, processing, and distribution. Dan Leiber of StarDust Farm Sustainable Food and Dining, who presented at the session, stated that “[The American food system] isn’t growing crops, it’s growing cash.” Unfortunately, too many people don’t realize that they are passively forfeiting their direct control of the food that they eat every day. Leiber emphasized the fact that we as consumers have the right to define our own food and agriculture systems. We have the right to healthy food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. Realizing these rights could change the public’s ethos, maybe even the entire American food system, if the general public were more aware of where their food is coming from.
Leiber continued to talk about how important sustainable agriculture and clean food is to our environment and to our health. His general rule of thumb is, “If you can’t read it, you shouldn’t eat it.” He encouraged the audience to eat what he considers “clean food,” basically anything grown without chemicals, anything GMO free, and anything growth hormone free. He suggested eating seasonally. When produce is locally in season, the relative abundance of the crop will usually make it less expensive, only increasing the motivation for the college students attending the conference to start investing in a more sustainable future.
Clean food wasn’t only discussed at Dr. Leiber’s session. Lehigh University presented a project they implemented recently called, The Real Food Challenge. The goal of this challenge is to increase the amount of spending on more sustainable food choices and to improve the amount of “real food” on campus — here, real food is defined as anything local, ecological, fair trade, or humane. Lehigh University’s Office of Sustainability collaborated with their dining services to implement and carry out the Real Food Challenge. Every year, students involve themselves fully into the challenge by tracking and analyzing the integration of real food into Lehigh’s dining options on campus. From the 2013-2014 school year to the 2014-2015 school year, Lehigh students tracked an 8% increase in “real food” spending, a huge growth that resulted from the collaborative work being done. At the end of the presentation, Lehigh presented several goals for upcoming years, like including more campus dining locations in their tracking and increasing their “real food” spending to 20% by 2020.
From a different angle, Lehigh University is also trying to encourage the availability of healthy, local, and organic produce within the Bethlehem community. Every week, Lehigh hosts a Farmers’ Market in their main campus square that brings in produce from local farms and vendors in an effort to bridge the LU students with the low-income Hispanic community of Bethlehem. The Farmers’ Market is very appealing to students and faculty, and also convenient since it is on their campus; however, it hasn’t been drawing in the community members it was intended for, possibly due to the invisible fence line of privilege that separates the campus from the community. Oddly enough, farther downtown there is a farm stand sponsored by the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley, which is very popular with community members. The student presenters at the conference had conducted research investigating the dynamics between the two markets, asking questions like, how can Farmers Markets serve the needs of the Hispanic population in South Bethlehem? Will combining the two Farmers Markets alter accessibility to fresh produce for underserved Hispanic populations? Does the location of a Farmers Market influence the frequency of use? What social dynamics influence the use of Farmers Markets? Their presentation looked at the research and came up with some possible solutions about how to confront the differences between the two farmers’ markets. For example, it was suggested that the students could leave the two markets separate as they currently are, or combine and expand the markets, even moving them to a more integrative location. As it was an initial investigation into the dynamics of the farmers’ markets, a more comprehensive plan and set of actions could take place in the near future.
Food is a huge part of fostering a sustainable community and the participating universities are doing a lot in regards to changing the types of foods they bring onto campus, how the food is made available, and redefining “clean food.” With the valiant efforts of students and staff, there is a possibility that in the next few years we could see an even stronger push for more sustainable food choices at the LVAIC schools.