On Tuesday, April 1, 2014 I presented the following slides as part of my Pecha Kucha presentation at ACPA 2014. It was a unique opportunity to share information based on the food class that I co-taught this past semester at Michigan State University.
About Pecha Kucha: My good friend Paul Brown describes the PK style of presentation very effectively in this post. I’d describe it as the most terrifying 6 minutes and 40 seconds, preceded by at least 12+ hours of prep in my life. Pecha Kucha, or PK for short, is a presentation format that lasts only 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Each presentation contains exactly 20 slides and each slide appears for only 20 seconds. Oh, and the slides are set to automatically advance, so once you “go” the trick is to keep time with the slides. As you can see with my slides below, the photos were very specifically chosen and flow between topics made it difficult if they weren’t perfectly timed. Ahhh!!
Quick shout out to my good friends, Kristin Holmberg & Kathy Adams Riester who helped me practice this in my hotel room probably about 20 times!
So, here’s my talk:
The Complications of food on campus are many. Food is a universal unifier and for millennia, humans have come together across generations and cultures over meals. The daily question “what’s for dinner” has larger consequences for our health and indeed for our world’s sustainability.
On our college and university campuses, what food is purchased, prepared, and provided in our dining establishments tells a story about our institutional values. While there are many layers, I’m going to spend what little time I have talking about the social and environmental consequences and complications.
This story starts with my home campus. Michigan State University is one of the first land grants in the US founded in 1855 as Michigan Agricultural College or MAC. In our history of Higher Ed courses, we learned that Land Grant institutions proliferated and expanded in the 20th Century right after WWII with the GI bill. MSU is no different, and today serves nearly 50,000 students.
Land grants, early on, were focused on A&M, agriculture and mechanics.4 key technologies related to food production were developed on our campuses including, the mechanization of production, crop hybridization, irrigation infrastructure, and synthetic fertilizers. These new technologies led to efficiency and productivity that allowed our population to flourish on cheap food via a “Green Revolution”
Technologies led to the industrialization of agriculture and one of the direct and immediate effects is topsoil loss. As production went up, soil quality was compromised. Poor soil requires more irrigation as they have lost their ability to hold moisture with low organic matter. Soil erosion contributes to the degradation of rivers and streams, which are ecosystems for aquatic life (fish, plant life, mussels, etc.)
Are you aware that somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won’t bite one another? To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics on a daily basis. This is the predominant way that our pork is processed.
Animal welfare is one aspect of this equation, but equally disturbing are the manure lagoons and the environmental consequences of meat production. For those of us who are not vegetarians, do we make the connection between what’s for dinner and the consequences of those choices? According to a survey, only 50 percent of college students in the UK connected bacon with pigs. And, our world meat consumption is predicted to double by 2050.
As we deal with the poor topsoil robbed of organic ingredients because we no longer pasture-feed animals, whose manure would provide a natural fertilizer, we instead treat the soil with nitrogen, this map shows a massive Hypoxic zone or dead zone due to N run off. Over 50 such dead zones exist on the planet.
We consider what makes it to market, we also need to think about what is wasted, some before it even gets off the field. With food security and hunger being a worldwide problem, how can we consciously condone 40% of our food in the U.S. being wasted? On campus, what is done with food waste? Is it captured and composted? Is it landfilled?
What percentage of your food is made with GMOs or Genetically modified organism? If you eat any food prepared with corn, canola or vegetable oil, or regularly eat soy-protein like tofu, you can almost be guaranteed that at a genetic level, the corn or soy bean plant was grown from a seed that was genetically modified to be resistant to Round-Up so farmers could spray their fields.
These “green revolution” technologies certainly make food less expenses, but what are the real consequences of cheap food? The low prices on this common menu do not fully account for the true costs of food, which is often produced with insufficiently paid labor. Also it doesn’t account for the waste accompanies these products, or the extra costs based on the environmental impacts (like the dead zone in the gulf of Mexico). What about the economic decline of rural communities as there are fewer farms and farmers?
Campus ecology tells us that our environment on campus “teaches” too. Does, then the food we’re serving align with our values? What is the resulting “hidden curriculum” and is this what we want to teach our students? The costs of making food quick and convenient are probably are no less than the cost of making food cheap. Packaging, processing, transportation, storage and advertising are all costs of convenience.
Our culture is also bombarded by constant messages about “Healthy eating” dieting, weight loss, and beauty. The media messages are pervasive and unavoidable. This is juxtaposed with the food we serve and it’s no wonder some of the consequences of food include body and weight obsession, body image issues, and eating disorders among women and men.
Socialized gender roles around food preparation also pervade campus based dining centers. Intersecting with race and class, we need to consciously consider how pay equity and living wages disproportionately and negatively impact women food service workers.
Among those who experience food insecurity are low-income college students. In the early 2000s, it was estimated that there were about 25 universities and colleges that have campus food pantries. Since then, that number has quadrupled. The pantry at Michigan State, established in 1993, saw a spike in users in the 2005-06 academic year, and the number remains relatively high, he says, with about 200 to 300 people served every other Wednesday.
Here’s the good news: Our students, are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from and are leading activism movements around food production. At the same time many have never stepped foot on a farm. In the food class I teach, students find it very frustrating to learn about large-scale problems — whether it be factory farming or income disparity — and then feel thwarted in their desire to make change because of the enormity of these issues.
While their ability to make larger impacts may be unrealistic, students can and do certainly can have an impact at the university level. Universities are sometimes more malleable, more flexible, and more individually and institutionally responsive to consumer demand than our larger society. And, when it comes to food issues, there is building momentum to encourage universities to source food ethically, and to bring “real food” to campuses.
At Michigan State University, the overall food budget is $30Million dollars. Money equals power. When MSU or any institution decides to wield this power, connect with local growers, support ethical and sustainable production, become attuned to social equity and labor issues, they have the power to demand change.
As campus administrators looking to impact change, You can be a part of the solution. Add rooftop vegetable gardens to residence halls, connect with soil scientists and horticulturalists, develop integrated processes that use food waste from our dining centers to produce energy through anaerobic digesters or feed it to worms. Once you know better you can do better.
We have the power of technology and the brilliant minds on our campuses to work toward solutions. As our students speak, we can listen. Our campus-based organic farms and farmers need support. If your campus has such a thing, consider finding ways to connect and support their work. Thank you for your time, and let’s go eat!