What we eat and the ways in which we eat have numerous impacts on the planet: from how our food is grown, to the materials of our silverware. While there are growing flaws in our food systems on campus, there are also student initiatives fighting for food sustainability.
One of the most popular places to eat on campus, Lawrence Dining Hall, recently switched from a conveyor belt washing system and glassware and silverware to now using paper, styrofoam and disposable plastic plates, cups and utensils to feed the masses. This switch is causing dozens of trash cans to be filled with waste over the brim, causing concern for the amount of waste and emissions coming from campus cafeteria consumption.
On the Sustainability page of the Lawrence Dining Hall website, they claim to “minimize our waste by reducing, reusing and recycling.” Promises like this one are currently unfulfilled in reflection of the physical status of Lawrence Hall’s trash cans that are filled to the brim. With a publicly stated mission to “keep food waste out of landfills,” eyes are on Lawrence to step up their game.
In terms of what we eat, I always wonder about the origins of the spinach from the salad bar. The food being grown and served at campus eateries such as Lawrence is questioned by those who need more plant-based options.
To answer some of my own questions and pique my interest, I spoke with Josh Filer, the president of the Veg Out club and a member of Students Against Food Insecurity (SAFI). Filer encourages students to change their eating habits to become more plant-based. “As the Dining Services Senator, I speak with the SGA about the food initiatives on campus, as well as push the school and Aramark to do better with its services.”
Aramark is contracted by WCU as the main source of food on campus, including vendors like Chickie’s and Pete’s and Starbucks. Back in November, I contacted and followed up with Aramark with questions about how their food is grown and supplied to us on campus. I have yet to receive answers from them, despite promises of a response.
Multiple reports have found that a vegan diet has the most potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change and environmental advocacy “go hand in hand,” according to Filer. Filer is currently an Economics and Finance major, so he references the law of supply and demand. He states, “When we as consumers decide to purchase more local food and opt to not buy from popular brands in a grocery store, or choose a plant-based option instead of an animal-based product, we are voting with our dollar towards a more sustainable world. While corporations are often the biggest offenders in contributing to climate change, by changing our consumer preferences and thus impacting market forces, we can fight for a more sustainable food system.”
Filer promotes inclusiveness in the Veg Out club, a group he restarted this past semester after a lull in activity from the pandemic. “Veg Out focuses on plant-based nutrition, environmental sustainability and animal rights…I wanted to connect with people through food,” said Filer. Veg Out has hosted many events such as potlucks, yoga with other clubs, and dinners, all with the premise that the food served is vegan. Veg Out also began this semester with a tote bag painting collaboration, which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed.
In December, Filer had many groups gather with him at a town hall on Food Insecurity and Food Options. He advocated that students no longer want to “suffer a lackluster dining experience due to their moral reasons,” such as veganism and religious exemptions. “I wanted to get the word out there that students such as myself will advocate for students whose voices aren’t being heard,” added Filer.
After the town hall, SAFI had multiple meetings with administration from the University, the PASSHE State System, and Aramark, to discuss our concerns and demands. As a response to this, meetings have been held with PASSHE and Aramark. In a meeting with the Campus Dietician Nora Abraham, RD, who did her thesis on plant-based nutrition, Filer successfully expects more vegan options to be offered on campus.
Tentatively, on Thursday, April 21, the Veg Out club will be planning a Vegan Pop-Up in the dining hall, featuring a station where exclusively vegan food will be made by the campus chefs.
Throughout my journey with food sustainability and eating, I found what it means to be Barbara Kingsolver’s coined term of a “locavore.” Eating locally is optimal for our health and the planet. I see a lot of advocacy for a more plant-based diet. I believe it’s important to prioritize the places we get our food from. I plan on leaving my meal plan for my last year on campus, and hope to grocery shop at the West Chester Growers Market and the West Chester Cooperative, walkable places in town that mainly source their produce and food options from local growers and vendors.
Kristine Kearns is a second-year English major with a minor in Creative Writing. KK947319@wcupa.edu