Friday, May 29, 2009

Author's Note & Corrections for UCI/Aramark Post from Thursday, May 28, 2009

By Hai Vo
Fourth-year undergraduate student at UCI

The piece, An In-depth Analysis of the University of California Irvine Dining & Hospitality's Multi-million Dollar Contract with Aramark was written in February 2008 when I first was trying to understand sustainable food systems. The piece was written for a UCI Social Ecology Planning, Policy, & Design Global Sustainability I course and originally titled ("Wait. What happened five years ago?). The course introduced ideas of sustainability and its connection to politics, economics, development, and human essentials (food, water, air, housing). My course project was an interactive blog in which I defined a sustainable food system and whether or not the food system at UCI fit such a definition.

College, and education in general, is the process of discovering truth. Singer John Legend mentioned recently at the 2009 University of Pennsylvania Commencement that what we need more in this world are people who are brave enough and equipped with the resources to discover truth. In a world of economic, political, war-charged, internet, and real-estate challenges, Legend noted, I resonate with him that we need it more than ever. There are people beyond UPenn who are discovering the truth. And within the realm of discovering the truth, there are a multitude of ways to do so in the honest reciprocity of other humans who are discovering similar truths and are willing to offer their truth-finding process. Being in education, I have learned the process of being intrigued with a certain phenomena, offering a question of relevance, hypothesizing results, determining methods to test that hypothesis, providing the methods' results, discussing the validity of the methods, and offering conclusions to the question dealing with the phenomena. These conclusions change. As such, questions, methods, results, and conclusions evolve over time.

When I was writing the piece, I was seeking truth. I wanted to understand the food systems at place. I wanted to understand who was in charge of what, where things were flowing to and from what sources, what dynamics were playing out, and why things happened the way it did. I turned to the internet, to books, to articles, and to policies that I could get access to. The piece was a culmination of my research, my thoughts, and my questions.

Two challenging aspects about being in academia are validating sources and offering sound conclusions to a multitude of perspectives. It is about making an argument and offering sources that validate that argument. It is about understanding the complexity of an issue in a variety of viewpoints and learning how to formulate conclusions for further insight, inquiry, and thought. I've learned through this process that because sources change and information evolves, conclusions do as well. However, to offer more sound conclusions, these sources and data need to be transparent, open for dialogue, and peer-reviewed. My intention with the article was to bring together a variety of viewpoints, organize and reference them as they were, and offer concluding statements and further questions.

Was it fair to write that Aramark, "this single source" is "a monoculture of sorts"? Maybe not. Was it fair for me to conclude that "all the dots don’t line up right" when I referenced unjust labor practices at UCI and Duke University but recognized that Aramark was number one in its industry in 2006's Fortune list? I don't recall any harsh language in the first analysis of my piece.

I recently found out by our Aramark resident manager that the contract that I used as reference for writing was void in 2007. At the time, the contract thereafter was not available online. According to the manager, I was referencing an incorrect contract. In discovering honest truth, I should have went to the UCI Dining offices, and asked in person. I didn't. In a world of electronic referencing as more correspondence is done technologically and through the internet, I recognize the challenge of not being electronically transparent. As I move forward, I recognize the need to balance and weigh my conclusions in the world of the internet and the world of reality.

I re-read the "intriguing notes" in the contract that I referenced at the time, and I see three categories. First, I referenced points in the contract and had questions. I did so in #1 (ecological impact), #3 (financial commitment). Nothing else. No thoughts. Just questions. Secondly, I referenced points in the contract, and offered a vision for more inclusion for a sustainable food system. In #5 (training employees) and #6 (choice of pricing), I referenced the need to involve all stakeholders (employee training and student choice of price) in these visions. The last category involves writing that I am now not proud of in a piece that I intended to be sound. In point #2, in which I listed the minimum food standards, I wrote my metaphor of "night and day" to describe the current food standards and what I envisioned to be better food standards. In point #4 (eating utensils), I denounce disposible plastic eating utensils because that's my vision of a sustainable food system. My analysis of points 2 and 4 offer personal convictions and emotions. In a piece intended for sound references and conclusions, I should have left those out and offered a deeper, more evidence-based analysis. I meant academic, but I turned editorial. I wronged.

In the final part of the piece, I wrote about two other policies, the UC Food Service Policy and Aramark's Green Thread. I reference them. I end the piece with a question.

I've learned from this piece, in particular, that language is important when writing a sound, evidence-based paper. How I frame references, citations, and quotes is integral to the process of understanding and academic development. I also learned the need to balance electronic referencing with referencing in person. I do want to note that for me a student trying to understand and seek truth, information and data needs to be available and transparent for me to analyze, re-study, and examine. In an academic world in which students are referencing more online, subject matters and infrastructures that deal with student interest should be aware of such behavior. I welcome comments, feedback, and information. My intention was not to criticize people. My intention was to understand the systems and the people involved in those systems.

I have learned and grown since then. I have been and am a UCI Dining intern and fellow, understanding the challenges and opportunities with institutional food procurement and sustainability. Instead of working against, I have actively listened, discussed, and collaborated with UCI Dining staff through academic scholarship, participatory education, and inclusiveness. Labor, food standards, utensils, and ecology have been evolving discussions at UCI. UCI Dining has made some great progress in the last two years toward sustainable food practices:
  • trayless dining in residential dining halls
  • an organic salad bar in Mesa Commons
  • elimination of some polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) in residential & retail locations
  • fair trade coffee offered at Starbucks and the Cyber A Café
  • organic eggs at all dining locations
  • reusable tableware at residential dining locations
  • unbleached napkins at all residential and most retail locations
  • fair trade and organic products offered at Zot ‘n Go
  • educational events about waste reduction
  • vegetarian and vegan options at all dining locations
  • dining hall light conservation
  • donation of leftover pastries to Feeding America (formerly known as America's Second Harvest)
  • recycling at all dining locations
Students are collaborating with UCI Dining on a pilot sustainability assessment of food procurement using the Real Food Calculator, a metric devised by the Real Food Challenge. UCI Dining, in addition to over a dozen other spnosors, have worked with students to organize a spring educational series on food sustainability. The UC system is moving forward with a Sustainable Food Service Policy.

Regardless of whether an individual is a student or not, there are challenges that we face and are trying to overcome in our food system. The questions I raise in my piece were intended for open discussion, honest dialogue, and greater transparency. Behind the businesses, corporations, and institutions, there are people with abilities to communicate, listen, brainstorm, and solve those challenges. These efforts from UCI Dining staff, administrators, and students mentioned above are intended for a food sustainability. These challenges bring up questions for people to make concerted efforts toward a sustainable food system.

I resonate with John Legend's words of the world needing people to discover truth. There are people who seek truth. There are people who act. I choose to do both. Seeking truth and acting on it can invoke conflict, distress, and barriers to the systems involved. Seeking truth and acting on it can also bring people together, increase active and civil inquiry, listening, and communicating, and inspire problem-solving. I choose to do the latter.

Read the original article here:
An In-depth Analysis of the University of California Irvine Dining & Hospitality's Multi-million Dollar Contract with Aramark

Thursday, May 28, 2009

An In-depth Analysis of the University of California Irvine Dining & Hospitality's Multi-million Dollar Contract with Aramark

By Hai Vo
Fourth-year undergraduate student at UCI

Please read the author's note & corrections post when you are finished with this article.

Five summers ago, University of California Irvine Dining & Hospitality signed a multi-million dollar contract with Aramark, one of the largest national and international food service companies, to extend operations from pre-existing residential dining halls to all retail dining locations except for one coffee cart near the Physical Sciences. Aramark “provides a range of food, facility, and other support services to approximately 500 colleges and universities”, allowing for a single source for development of dining and facility management. This single source, a monoculture of sorts, would soon ripple challenges to all stakeholders in our food system - the environment, food producers, consumers, animals, and communities.

Reading over the 28-page document, the agreement is between the “University” (Regents of the University of California) and the “Contractor” (Aramark Educational Services). The contract spans for nearly a decade from August 15, 2004 to June 30, 2014. Within this span, UCI Dining only handles with one contractor as opposed to individual businesses, co-ops, consortiums, or farmers, as they did pre-2004. According to a 2006 article “Aramark: The New Bully on Campus” in UCI's Jaded Magazine, Ray Giang, then-ASUCI Executive President of Administrative Affairs, noted that “along with the benefits of consolidation fiscal stability and sheer convenience Aramark provided, ‘to be honest, the University gets a bigger kickback, too.”

Hing notes the unjust labor practices that Aramark has had a reputation for, and early looks into the contract have been tested and challenged. “Many full time Aramark employees qualify for public assistance and rely on Medi-cal, low-income housing, and other social programs” in which they are “not afforded the same rights as UC service employees” and prohibited from “organizing or unionizing for higher wages”. Under Section 4A of the contract, “all such employees are employees of the Contractor”. On January 17, 2006, UCI students rallied for insource service workers. According to the American Federaion of State, County, and Municipal Employees, “student protestors circled the flagpoles at noon, waved picket signs and heatedly changed their disapproval of the maltreatment of UCI Irvine’s minority workers.” Two months later, Chancellor Michael Drake began dialogue for an in-sourcing agreement for Food Service and Grounds Workers.

Labor challenges have also been seen not only at UC Irvine, but at other colleges, as well. At Duke University, Minnesota Daily writer John Hoff chronicled the difficulties universities have with contracting to externals food management companies like Aramark. Their Dining Services Director, according to Hoff, “admit[ted] bring[ing] Aramark to campus was a mistake.” These mistakes included poor and tasteless service, high food prices, and apathetic responses to demands. From 2004-2006, the student government and the Student Dining Advisory Committee “voted ‘no confidence’ in Aramark.”

Aramark was ranked number one in its industry in FORTUNE magazine’s 2006 list, consistently ranking as “one of the two three admired companies in its industry as evaluated by peers and industry analysts."

Sympathizing or not, all the dots don’t line up right.

There are some intriguing notes about UCI Dining's contract with Aramark.

1. In Section A (General Provisions), M (Ecological Issues), the contract states that “The Contractor is encouraged to be away of the legitimate concerns of the campus community regarding the preservation of the ecological balance in nature, and the impact of the Contractor’s business on the environment.” How is this measured? While one may seem that business is good as any each day, are there imbalances caused by the Contractor?

2. Aramark must employ the following food standards (Section 3A):
  • Beef – USDA inspected, Grace Choice
  • Ground Beef – Shall not have a fat content to exceed 22% of its weight
  • Poultry – USDA inspected, Grade A
  • Fish and Seafood – Fish must be a nationally distributed brand, packed under continuous inspection by the U.S. Department of Interior and any other applicable regulatory agencies.
  • Eggs and Dairy Products – USDA inspected, Grad A.
  • Produce – Number 1 quality.
  • Canned Fruits, Fruit Juices and Vegetables, USDA inspected, Grade A Fancy
  • All Other Food Products – Must be of comparable quality to the items specified above.
  • No veal products may be served.
  • The Contractor is encouraged to avoid meat products derived from animals raised in the South American Continent.
"No veal products"? "South American Continent"? Where did they get that from? If you were put this last side-by-side to one that contains certifications like "Grown or Raised within 250 miles from Campus", "Fair Trade Direct Purchasing", "USDA Organic", "Certified Humane", and "Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Guide 'Best' Choices", it'd be night and day.

3. Within the decade, “ARAMARK shall make a financial commitment to the University in an amount of $2,600,000 (the ‘Financial Commitment’) for food service facility renovations and for the purchase and installation of food service equipment, area treatment, signage, temporary structures for service and other costs associated with the new Student Center and other retail locations for the Campus Food Service Program on Client’s premises.” (Section 3B) Has any of this financial capital been committed to sustainable food efforts?

4. Under Section 3C, “Eating Utensils”, the “Contractor shall provide each customer with high quality disposable plastic eating utensils”, “each customer shall be provided with two napkins”, and “cups and plates may be of either Styrofoam or high quality paper”. Styrofoam and plastic seen in our dining halls are non-biodegradable, causing harm in all levels of the ecocentric food system. While some retail dining locations have provided biodegradable corn-starch to-go containers, it is ostensibly imperative to see it uniform throughout campus. In addition, providing each customer with napkins becomes a behavioral mechanism. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I can do without the large-size bag, three plastic spoons, two paper napkins, and Styrofoam cup and plastic lid for my 16 oz. three-bean chili. I paid for the chili, not the superfluous by-products that will eventually go in the landfill.

5. “The Contractor”, seen in Section 4H, “shall provide adequate training for its employees at all levels of the operations.” As the issue of sustainable food systems increases, it will be important to bring to the table all stakeholders to open the dialogue and become participatory actors in the endeavor.

6. I’m sure students think about and often wonder to change the prices for the food they purchase. Under Section 5B, University members can do just that. Price changes can be proposed in writing by July 31st of each year “with justification and/or documentation which validates the request”. Upon approved validation on August 15, the prices become effective the first of September.

Throughout the past five years, the University of California has drafted "Procedures for Implementation of UC Food Service Policy." UC campuses are mandated to "source from producers who pay minimum wage, or higher, to workers, as required by state and federal law, and who provide safe workplaces, including protection from chemical exposure, and provision of adequate sanitary facilities and rinking water for workers, as required by state and federal law".

Preferences, under a graded criteria, include buying local, certified organic, Certified Humane Raised & Handled (CHRH), sustainable seafood, direct, certified Fair Trade, and worker-supportive food products. The procedures include other measure including waste reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency, and much more.

Aramark has adopted a "Green Thread" into their everyday business operations by reducing their environmental footprint while operationally delivering exceptional results. Within it, they've adopted the following principles, or "pillars": sustainable food, green buildings, waste stream management, responsible procurement, energy & water conservation, and transportation.

Arguments have been made for and against our current contract with Aramark. De facto monopoly. Streamlined processes. Low costs for students. Low-quality food.

Whether or not we realize it, the following is fact. Students pay for their tuition, and students pay for their food. The question becomes a more qualitative one – How does a university, like UC Irvine with 31,000 campus community members, sustain its food system? As you have read, there are three varied standards for food system management at UCI – the original contract, the UC Policy on Food Practices, and Aramark’s “Green Thread”. Which one to follow?

Unless a food revolution on the UCI campus takes place, for which I don’t know the practicality of the matter, how can UCI Dining and Aramark best practice environmentally- and ecologically-sound measures to ensure a sustainable nature of feeding its community?

- - - Please Read - - -

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Senior Week Dining Hall Hours for Goucher College

Graduating seniors will receive 16 meals for senior week at Goucher College. A maximum of 3 meals can be swiped per day. Here are the new dining hall hours:

Stimson Dining Hall
Saturday, May 16, 2009 through Friday, May 22, 2009
Breakfast: 8:00 am - 10:00 am
Lunch: 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
Dinner: 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Pearlstone Cafe
Monday, May 18, 2009 through Friday, May 22, 2009
8:00 am - 1:00 pm

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Winners of Dining Hall Digest's First Incentive Program Raffle!

Congratulations to Melissa Tillery and Hannah Southworth, winners of Dining Hall Digest's first incentive program raffle! Melissa and Hannah will both receive a $10 gift card to Zia's Cafe in Towson, MD, courtesy of Bon Appetit at Goucher College. Thank you Melissa, Hannah, Bon Appetit, and all other Dining Hall Digest contributors!

Goucher College Eggs and Ham Break Tonight!

If you like Eggs and Ham then come to Stimson tonight between 8:00 - 10:00 pm. This is a no charge event for current meal plan subscribers. I don't know any more details because the emails they sent out were extremely vague. My guess is there will be more than just eggs and ham but I could be wrong. And maybe it's green eggs and ham. But regardless of what color the food is, enjoy this nice study break!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Changing Our Environment with a Low Carbon Diet: Simple Guidelines to Make a Difference

By Hannah Southworth

My name is Hannah Southworth and my previous post was about the low carbon diet project I am currently working on. I am a non-vegetarian that loves good food but wants to make a difference in the environment. My low carbon diet guidelines can be used at one meal or at all three meals. In my research I looked at how many carbon points my meal was producing. I also looked at the diet of a vegetarian.

After observing both diets for a week and calculating carbon points, I determined that my weekly amount was 26,862 carbon points. The vegetarian had 21,555.5 carbon points. I changed the points by putting in the equivalent of a low carbon lunch (around 800 points) for each day at the results were much lower. My weekly carbon points were 22,204 and the vegetarian’s carbon points were 20, 954. To find out how you can reduce your impact on the environment read the simple guidelines below.

The Low Carbon Diet:
Simple Guidelines to Make a Difference
  • Organic food reduces carbon points because there are no fertilizers involved. Keep in mind that large scale organic companies require other assistance such as traveling long distances to transport bees to pollinate. Importation of grain for cattle is also necessary.
  • Avoid Processed Food because there are more carbon points for processing and packaging. Also, they use sugar and high fructose corn syrup that are highly processed.
  • Meat and Dairy are high carbon choices because cows, sheep, and goats naturally emit methane that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. More than half the grain produced in the US goes to feed animals, not people. Herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers used on grains, and agricultural land and water use are put towards livestock.
  • Free Range Chickens Although chicken has a lower impact than beef, “sustainable” chicken has a 20% greater impact on global warming than the raised broiler birds because they take longer to raise and need to eat more. (According to Adrian Williams from Cranfield University in England)
  • Out of Season Fruits or Fresh Fish that has traveled long distances. The highest carbon impact comes from air transportation.
  • Avoid Produce Grown in Hot Houses (unless the hothouses are powered by renewable energy)

You don’t have to become vegan! Just a small sacrifice makes a difference.
In the book titled, Six Arguments for a Greener diet there are six arguments made for the low carbon diet:
  1. Less chronic disease and better overall health because fat and cholesterol in dairy and meat products causes around 63,000 fatal heart attacks each year.
  2. Less food borne illness linked to meat and dairy products.
  3. Better soil- livestock and industries related to it such as the dairy industry, have a huge impact on soil and land.
  4. More and cleaner water because livestock uses about 80% of all freshwater in the US.
  5. Cleaner air.
  6. Less animal suffering.
To make sure you are getting enough protein without eating meat and dairy products there are a lot of other protein rich foods that can provide this lost protein. Whole wheat bread, rice broccoli, spinach, almonds peas, chickpeas, peanut butter, tofu, soy milk, lentils, and kale all are great sources of protein. Avocados have natural fat that can provide for the lost from not eating meat products. When eating out, there are tons of options that are meat and dairy free. Try ordering pizza without cheese, or Chinese mooshu vegetables at Chinese restaurants.

These are two websites that highlight the vegan diet and how to get the proper nutrition, and vegan recipes that include protein rich ingredients.

Feel free to email me at if you have any questions!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Changing Our Environment with a Low Carbon Diet: An Introduction

By Hannah Southworth

My name is Hannah Southworth and I am a sophomore at Goucher College. I will be posting information over the next few days about a project I am doing for my environmental studies class. I run cross country and track, take dance classes, and love being active. Staying healthy is important to me but I love to make good food! As a college student I don’t have control over where the dining hall food is coming from so I wanted to find out how to control the impact my meals have on the environment.

For those (like me) who don’t want to give up certain foods completely to become vegan, I will be looking into ways to incorporate one green meal a day. I recorded my meals (I eat meat) and my friend (who is a vegetarian and also a runner) and calculated the carbon impact, or carbon points at Bon Appetit’s low carbon site. I then changed the meals by putting in one low carbon lunch each day to see the differences in carbon impact (using Goucher’s Bon Appetit low carbon diet menu). I hope you enjoy learning how you can make a difference in all of your meals or just one a day!

Why should I be worried about food and the environment?
First of all, the food system is responsible for 1/3 of global greenhouse gases and the eating habits of US residents generate 5% of worlds total greenhouse gases!

Greenhouse gases absorb and emit radiation causing the greenhouse effect. These gases are responsible for the temperature of our earth. The food system contributes to climate change because agriculture relies on transportation and food processing that burns fossil fuels. The fossil fuels cause carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, to enter the atmosphere.
Livestock also releases methane gas, which is another greenhouse gas.

What are carbon points?
1 point=1 gram of CO2e equivalent emissions of greenhouse gases.
CO2e= Carbon dioxide equivalent= The amount of global warming from greenhouse gases.
*If you are familiar with the carbon footprint system it is similar because it equals the amount of greenhouse gases emitted over the life-cycle of the product.

A vegan diet excludes basic protein sources (because it excludes animal products) but in the next post on how to have a low carbon diet there will be alternatives for protein so that skipping meat will not affect your health.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Goucher College Spring Convocation Dining Hall Hours - Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pearlstone Cafe
· OPEN: 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
· CLOSES: 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
· REOPENS: 8:00 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.

Stimson & Kosher Dining Halls
· OPEN: Breakfast & Lunch
· CLOSES: 2:00 p.m.
· Will reopen on Friday, May 8, 2009

Heubeck Dining Hall
· OPEN: (11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.)
· CLOSED 2:00 p.m.
· Will reopen on Friday, May 8, 2009

The Van
· NO CHANGE (8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pinching Pennies, Potlucks, and Politics...

By Maggie Lickter

Let’s start with The Question. It is asked in different ways. Sometimes it is posed as “What can I do?” or “How do I make a difference?” or “What types of things should I buy that make the biggest difference?” or as a recent student asked “I’m all about the use of foods from sustainable sources but for the poor college kid this is tough. How do you pinch a penny and still make a difference?” This last question has become even more salient in our failing economy and this blog is devoted to exploring the answers to that question (Part 1) and questioning whether that question is the best question to be asked (Part 2 – which is really the best part, I think).

Part 1 - For the Consumer
This morning my room mates and I were eating some yogurt from a particularly green and organic company. We were discussing how we would like to be able to get yogurt in bulk because of the growing stacks of plastic containers we were amassing. My room mate pointed out that a local yogurt maker sells yogurt in re-useable jars that can be returned to the store and they will give you a dollar deposit back. But the yogurt is just so expensive that even with the deposit return it’s totally not feasible for us to afford buying that yogurt.

So in no particular order here are my practical thoughts on saving money and buying food and making a difference:

1. Cherish food more: Let’s be honest, food just doesn’t matter as much to most folks. A dollar for a song on Itunes seems reasonable to many but what about a dollar for an apple? The percent of our income that we spend on food has drastically decreased over this century. And it’s funny because you can’t eat a CD or a survive off of a wide screen TV. Food keeps us alive.

2. Volunteer: Nonetheless, many of us still struggle with making money ends meet. Volunteering on farms, in co-op grocery stores, and at farmer’s markets are all viable alternatives to spending money on food since most farms, farm stands, and food co-ops have a deal: work for food. Plus it’s a great way to learn about marketing, food systems, and how to…

3. Grow your own: Whether you have a whole backyard garden, pots on your porch, or sprouts in a box in your living room, there’s this wonderfully special thing about food, you can grow it yourself!

4. Join a CSA: Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to get good food. Though the price comparison is probably arguable, I split a CSA box with my roommates, paid $9 a week and had more vegetables than I knew what to do with.

5. Make your own guidelines : Some people I know won’t buy any “green” food that is double the conventional price. Some people spend more but only for organic dairy. Others get all their fruits and veggies from local sources and buy everything else from a supermarket. Some people eat less meat and then eat more expensive grass fed beef. Pick one thing that you can do and do it.

6. Eat simple and eat in: Restaurant food is more expensive and though supporting locally owned restaurants is nice, if you’re really trying to save money eating in and eating simple is the way to go. Make a big pot of beans, a big pot of rice and you’ll be set with the basics for the week.

7. Make food gifts: You know how it’s easier to spend money for other people sometimes? When you’re going to splurge on a gift, make it a food gift. Local honey, artisan cheeses, specialty jams, and handmade yogurt in reuseable containers are all delicious ways to love your loved ones.

8. Buy bulk: My mom buys cases of bread and then freezes loaves. My neighbors order cases of their favorite teas. Buying bulk saves money and sometimes packaging and gives you the incentive to start sharing bulk purchases with roommates, neighbors, and family. It’s kind of the same reasoning behind Costco but go to your local grocer instead.

9. Glean and forage: Gleaning projects are popping up around the country with the recognition that when food grows, it often grows abundantly. Gleaning is the art and practice of harvesting fruit that would otherwise go unused – think your neighbor’s fruit tree or zucchini plant. I still haven’t figured out why people buy rosemary in my town considering it grows on every street corner; start tapping into your hunting/gathing self. Did you know you can eat most weeds? Obviously, make sure you know what you’re eating since some weeds are also severely toxic but find some lambs quarter, dandelion, and purselane and you have a gourmet, local, healthy salad mix. As for hunting squirrels, I wont give any advice on that one.

Part 2 - Beyond Consumption
If Part 1 is dedicated to thinking about your choices as a consumer, Part 2 explores ideas for “making a difference” beyond consuming. The fact is, it sucks to feel guilty about not being green enough because you don’t have the money to buy, for example, local, organic, yogurt packaged in re-useable containers. As much as I’m a fan of the slogan “Vote with your fork!” and as much as I believe that our food choices have far reaching effects on our world, I am more than a consumer. We’ve learned to define ourselves in terms of what we buy, eat, wear, and drink but we’re not just vortexes for widgets and bananas; we’re thinking, creating, producing, political beings that can affect change beyond what we hoover up at the supermarket or the dining halls.

As I started thinking about writing this blog I started talking and listening to people for clues on how to go beyond being a consumer. In the process, of discovering some gems to this answer, I also waded through the “Tell me what brands to buy” and “I just want to buy good stuff” comments which I realized are more ubiquitous than I might have originally guessed. In no way have I found the answer to my question of moving beyond consumption (I’m guessing it’s one of those answers that is going to be ever evolving) but I think I found some worthwhile directions to pursue.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found to think about the importance and wide ranging effects of food, and therefore the wide range of choices to interact with food comes from an organization that I’ve been working with called the Real Food Challenge. The goal of the Real Food Challenge is to unite students to build a more just and sustainable food system. We use what we call the Real Food Wheel to illustrate many of the facets of life that connects to food.

People are passionate about different portions of this wheel. Some people work to create connections between coffee farmers abroad and coffee drinkers in the US like the Community Agroecology Network, others are focusing on nutrition in grade school curriculum, others make sure people have access to food by making local grocery stores like People’s Grocery, some folks are building backyard gardens, while some are boycotting food chains and dining services to ensure laborers get paid fairly like the Student/Farmworker Alliance and some people are throwing potluck parties and eating food together.

This last activity is one of my favorites and I think one of the most important and simple ways of acting beyond consumerism. In a conversation I was having with my best friend about being more than consumers she said, “I think a big part of it is ending isolation”. This got me thinking, perhaps what we consume is just as important as who we share it with. As I suggested before, we are more than what we buy, eat, wear and drink; we are friends, family, lovers, and community members to other people. We can create our own entertainment for each other by just being together. Therefore I stand behind the idea that throwing a party is a great way to make a difference. As a good friend of mine said, “Let’s not be force-fed music and food, let’s make it from our places and times.”

The other day, Erik Knudtsen, an urban homesteader in LA who grows food, raises chickens, builds his own grey water treatment systems and maintains a rockin’ blog came and spoke at my school. He was encouraging the audience to do what they could; he didn’t urge people to grow all their own food but to just start with one project. One of the students raised their hands and said “Okay, so if I grow a tomato plant and get like seven tomatoes, so what? Why is that important? I’m probably not really offsetting many costs or making the world more environmentally friendly”. Erik Knudtsen responded by saying that first off those will be the best seven tomatoes you ever ate and secondly these acts (i.e. growing one tomato plant) are symbolic. They’re small but important because they start changing things in your world. They change your experience (even if just a little) and the experience of others who walk by and see your lone tomato plant growing. “It’s like alchemy” he said “turning base metals into gold.” That got me thinking about this house plant I have growing over my bed that I really love. And it’s not sucking up a whole bunch of carbon dioxide and going to fix global warming but it’s important because I love it and it makes me happy. And I love my rosemary and fig tree that I planted also

The thing about consumption is that it requires money. And most of these things that I’m suggesting also require a certain amount of money though my point is that money is not central to their existence. The truth is our food system is classist and organic food consumption often times verges on elitist. Overcoming isolation and practicing symbolic acts of food growing have the potential to be inclusive practices where we challenge histories and social boundaries that have traditionally separated us from each other. Parties can be thrown in parks and open spaces; plants (like fig and rosemary) can be grown from cuttings; public lands are susceptible to guerilla gardening; and many schools and communities are starting or maintaining farms and gardens where you can grow all sorts of things. The wonderful thing about seeds is that they can be saved! Which gets me to the point that there are perfectly free and extremely important things you can do to make a difference.

I would say that educating yourself and then others is number one. Without gaining knowledge about food systems and agriculture we cannot expect anything to change. The powers that be have converged to invisiblize (not a real word but one that I like) all sorts of really important things about our food like where it came from, how it was made, what’s in it, who made it, who made money from it, and who got the short end of the stick out of the whole deal. Your dining services for instances has contracts and purchasing orders that detail the rules by which the game is played. No matter how much food you consume you will not change those rules without knowing them. Unraveling the stories behind food is necessary to make demands for a new order. Which gets me to making demands for a new order.

Get political! Whether it’s collaborating with or boycotting against your dining services, local government or state and national policy, do something. There’s a host of activities that anyone can do to partake in the creation of a world that’s reflective of what they believe in: writing letters to the editor, attending campus stakeholder meetings, writing comment cards in your dining halls, showing up at city council meetings, forming or joining a student group on campus, calling your senators, and running for office yourself to name a few. As it turns out we live in a democracy which means we have the power to make our voices and values heard. When Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, came to speak at my school about our extremely unhealthy, illogical, fuel-dependent, inequitable food system one student asked him The Question, “What do you suggest I buy to make a difference?” Raj answered that was the wrong question to be asking and suggested instead that “we are not consumers of democracy but its proprietors.

I haven’t quite figured out a conclusion for this blog so in a way I guess there just isn’t one. Which means the discussion is still going. Write your comments, agree, disagree, talk to your friends, heck, talk to the plants and let’s keep building on this…

Syndicated post from Organic on the Green.

New Incentive Program with Smoothies and Giveaway

Lunch & Dinner Menus for Goucher College Dining Halls

Friday, May 1, 2009

Changes in Dining Hall Hours for Get Into Goucher Day 2009

(Image by Melissa Tillery)

Pearlstone Cafe
· OPEN: 8:00am – 10:00am
· CLOSED: 11:00am – 6:00pm
· REOPENS: 6:00pm – 11:30pm

Stimson & Kosher Dining Halls
· CLOSED: Breakfast & Lunch
· REOPENS: Dinner 5:00pm - 7:00pm

Heubeck Dining Hall

The Van
· 8:00am – 5:00pm