Friday, September 26, 2008

Minoring in Sustainable Food

Ye Olde Alma Mater is the focus of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article about college cafeterias serving sustainable food [you might be able to access this for the next couple of days or you might have to get a "day pass" to look at it or you can look up the issue dated September 26, 2008, at your local library].

Got some angsty undergrad who needs to direct their revolutionary attitude somewhere other than grade grubbing? Sick them on food services!

First, I'd like to bring to your attention that the move towards sustainable sourcing was the result of student activism.

Nationally, students have pushed hard for local-food programs, and the amount of local produce in the dining hall is sometimes used as a litmus test for a college's overall commitment to sustainability. Local food has been a hot topic in popular culture in recent years, thanks in part to books by Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, movies like the documentary King Corn, and a popular if somewhat romantic sense that modern agriculture, which has become industrialized, should return to smaller, family-farm operations.
And how much of an asshat do you have to be to drop "if somewhat romantic" into the previous sentence? Clearly the author was a college student during the cynical, apathetic early nineties. I probably had a class with him. Anyway, this was a bottom-up decision in the academic world where the administration keeps getting older but the students keep staying the same age. Meaning, the administration could have just waited out the "fad," but they didn't. Yay, Administration!

The article raises three, I'd suspect the author would call "unromantic," reasons institutions are hopping on the sustainable agriculture train. (1) For a relatively small investment they get a lot of good PR. "Food is a highly visible symbol of a college's amenities and priorities." (2) Purchasing from local farmers improves town-gown relations. (3) In this age of paranoia, local sourcing improves food security. Giving the example of Cornell University, which buys 30-50% of its food locally,
A pandemic, an oil shortage, or, more likely, an ice storm could hobble transportation in the region, leaving the university stranded with thousands of mouths to feed. Under scenarios like those, local food would be much easier to bring in.
Bet they could even get a grant from Homeland Security with that sort of reasoning.

But along with improving the nutrition of the over-educated, there are some broader benefits to the institutional move toward local sustainable food. Emory University, "in Georgia, where about 1 percent of farms are organic," has hired a local farmer to be a farmer liaison to "woo[] farmers to create its own local-food movement." So a relatively big purchaser is out there pitching sustainable woo to local food producers. Emory also "enlisted a food distributor, Destiny Produce, which buys and sells food from organic and local farms, to help organize more local food production." And perhaps pushing this student-led change up the ladder as far as it can go, Emory is pushing its corporate food service provider, Sodexo, which provides Emory with chicken from out-of-state in Georgia - the top poultry producer in the county, to figure out how to provide more local foods to meet their goal of 75% local sustainable food by 2015.

For more information I've gathered some links for you.

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