Let Them Eat Lettuce

I was pleasantly surprised last Wednesday to see trays of baby greens freshly snipped into salad bowls in Paresky Common. As I eagerly waited in line for the baby green anomalies, tens of thousands of students at over 270 colleges were participating in “Food Day,” a national event promoting positive change in the food system starting with grassroots movements on college campuses. Since returning to Andover after spending a year away, I have been astounded daily by the multitude of local produce available at the salad bar, in fruit bowls and in various prepared dishes throughout Commons. To some, it may make no difference whether or not “Fresh! From North Star Farms” is printed on a sign above the crisp cucumbers and juicy cherry tomatoes, or that their apple has a fresh-from-the-orchard feel. Some might even consider the sustainable options Commons provides as pretentious and unnecessary. They might wonder what Commons is trying to prove with those crazy trays of baby greens. Why is there so much publicity for every special option with a sign touting “all-natural,” “organic” or the like? Wouldn’t money be better spent on our financial aid than on organic food? We make the effort to turn out the lights, take shorter showers and carpool, but we may not realize that our chief lifetime energy expenditure is the food we choose to eat. The ubiquity of food at Andover, even the ubiquity of food in the United States, implies to us that what we put on our plates is not a matter of environmental importance but simply a matter of sustenance. In a world where food production expends more greenhouse gases than all means of transportation combined, according to Real Food Challenge, a campaign and network active on college campuses around the country, one can hardly begin to fathom how vast and unsustainable our global industrial food system is. In Commons, we have seemingly limitless food at our fingertips, yet we never stop to think about the long path it took for our food to get from the fields to our forks. If all of the food has already been produced anyway, what difference does it make if we buy local, organic foods or not? For one person, buying organic might not make a significant difference, but Commons serves an entire campus. Because our dear dining hall influences the choices of over a thousand consumers and buys products in massive quantities, the choices it makes really do matter. One way to improve eco-consciousness on campus is through participation in Real Food Challenge, which organized “Food Day” as well as several Real Food Summits, one of which I attended. In addition, the campaign has a goal to make college food at least 20 percent “real” by 2020, defining real food as “food that truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth.” What the campaign promotes is a food system—from seed to plate—that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability. Some people call it “local,” “green” or “fair.” Real Food Challenge uses “Real Food” as a holistic term to bring together many of these diverse ideas people have about a values-based food economy. Though we are not a college, we do have comparable resources and a similar budget and can therefore follow along with the Real Food Challenge’s goal to bring more real food to schools. We levy our purchasing dollars to support local business and farms. For example, we provide a huge stimulus to the downtown favorite Perfectos, by ordering thousands of bagels weekly. Bagel connoisseurs on campus rejoice over the gourmet Perfectos option in lieu of the uninspired bagged choice. Likewise, as a tomato lover who spent the majority of her summer pruning and picking the fruit, I can personally attest to the taste difference between the North Star farms tomatoes and the conventional counterparts that the salad bar rotates. We must realize that although displays of orchard fresh apples and heirloom tomatoes in the deli bar may seem extraneous, the decisions made by the Commons staff may actually be far more important than turning off the water while brushing your teeth. Our personal choices, such as using a reusable travel mug and turning out the lights, are important because they are within our control. However, the sustainable efforts made in Commons, although seemingly superfluous when all we are looking for is a quick fix between classes, sports and homework, have monumental effects on Andover’s overall carbon footprint. So, go forth and enjoy the cucumbers and know that they’re benefiting more than just you. Mimi Leggett is four-year Senior from Manchester, MA, and an Associate Photo Editor for The Phillipian.