Working toward sustainability on Homewood Campus

By JAE CHOI | November 29, 2018

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As the negative impacts of livestock production, food transportation and food waste gain national attention, many Hopkins students are looking for ways to combat these issues on campus. 

Initiatives like the Real Food Challenge have sought to bring attention not only to food sustainability, but also to the welfare of farmers, food chain workers and animals. The Real Food Challenge, a national movement with a branch at Hopkins, also tackles issues such as food accessibility. 

The Real Food Challenge has proposed solutions for improving global food systems using various approaches in tandem with the Uprooted and Rising movement. This movement aims to fight against higher education’s partnerships with big food companies.

Isabela Garces, co-president of Real Food Hopkins, discussed the University’s dining contract with Bon Appétit, a food management company that has helped the University connect with local vendors and has kept trans fats, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and monosodium glutamate (MSG) from dining halls at Homewood. 

“We have our interns with the dining staff and the implementation team. Calculators are basically reaching out to new producers that are real and trying to form connections between those producers, our dining staff and the chefs,” she said.

Similarly, Dr. Martin Bloem, the director of the Center for a Livable Future at Hopkins, works to build a healthier, more equitable food system. Bloem believes that a multifaceted approach is necessary when trying to improve the state of food systems around the world. 

“More and more, we have learned that everything is interconnected,” he said. “There’s no one solution for the problem... for example, having more plant-based diets to begin with; but at the same time trying to improve the production of animal food to make it more humane; and at the same time working on more sustainable forms of transportation.”

Jason Mathias is the sustainability coordinator for the University’s Office of Sustainability, which implements eco-friendly practices at Hopkins. He discussed the interconnectedness between issues like food sustainability and climate change. According to Mathias, the University has a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 51 percent by 2025 and is looking at ways in which improving food programs could lighten the University’s carbon footprint. 

“Food-based programs have been/are discussing food’s carbon footprint through signage in the dining halls, promoting green caterers (those with environmentally minded menus and supplies), and supporting the University’s Real Food goal,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter. 

In the 2013-2014 school year, the University’s real food purchases for the Fresh Food Café (FFC) were 26 percent, surpassing the Real Food Challenge’s suggested goal of 20 percent. Garces believes that Hopkins is doing well in terms of sustainability, compared to other universities. 

“Our school definitely, compared to others, is doing really well, partly because Bon Appétit is so willing to work with us to get real food on campus,” Garces said. 

Real Food Hopkins also hosts a food justice weekly meeting and helps manage The Blue Jay’s Perch, an urban farm on the University’s Eastern Campus. Students have found that looking for ways to negotiate with the administration has helped in promoting incremental shifts toward greater sustainability.

According to Clarissa Chen, a senior Public Health major studying sustainability and member of Real Food Hopkins, working with the University’s administration is an effective way to generate change in the community. 

“Hopkins is the number one private employer in Maryland, and we have a lot of economic influence on the city, and when we make investments, we have a lot of influence on our local economy as well,” she said. 

The University has also promoted Meatless Monday, which encourages students to abstain from eating meat on Mondays at dining halls like the FFC. 

Bloem is a proponent of Meatless Monday because of its educational value.

“The Meatless Monday concept is really important because we worked on this for at least 10 years, and it has been successful in foreign countries in the rest of the world,” he said.

Bloem added that he believes initiatives such as Meatless Monday can open conversations about other related topics. 

“If you scientifically say, ‘does it make a difference when you don’t eat meat on Monday?’ you would say most probably not that much, but Meatless Monday is the beginning of a discussion,” Bloem said. 

The University has faced controversy because of its contract with PepsiCo, which has been accused of abuse of workers including child labor. 

According to Garces, although there are financial incentives that come from the contract with Pepsi, it is not right for the University to be partnered with a large food business that allows for human rights violations, worker abuses and palm oil plantations that use child labor.

Bloem added that large companies will have to change according to consumer demand and that some companies are already adapting to greater demands for sustainability and food justice.

“The problem is that if big food companies are not changing, we will be in the middle of a big problem,” he said. “They need to change.” 

Mathias added that people must be aware of the effects of an action as simple as buying food. 

“We’re becoming more aware of the direct effects on our health of food choices,” he wrote. “When we order a plate of food, we have to bear in mind how the food was grown or raised, processed, transported, ultimately cooked, plated, and all the individuals that are part of those processes.”

Bloem believes that millennials, too, have a responsibility to ethically consume. 

“And this is how it comes back to millennials — you can demand that change if you don’t buy the products of these companies; they’ll want you to buy it because you are the next generation. They create the demand, but they also have to follow the demand,” he said.

Bloem added that it is important for people to understand the effects of their actions, especially regarding consumption. He argued that many students are disconnected from the production of their food.

“Quite often you don’t care about factory workers, but that’s because they are so remote. So what is important for future generations is that they understand where things are coming from — that when we have a table, we know it’s coming from wood; that when we have a chair, we know that it is plastic and leads to pollution of the sea; that when we have a straw, we understand where it ends. I think the more we understand how things are connected in the world, the better we are,” he said.

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