In the Pit on March 22nd was a event called “Eating to Make the Earth Last” where various food-access, sustainability-oriented groups on campus set-up tables to talk to students about food. The idea of the event was that while many people think being environmentally conservative can mean taking shorter showers or turning off light switches, our food is also an important feature to look at as well. Additionally, there are many resources on campus to help students eat more sustainably and access local foods, but not everyone is aware of them. This event was to bring to light food in relation to climate change, and also to spotlight groups on campus focused on food-access and sustainable eating.
Climate change and food have a direct correlation. The degree of this correlation can be understood by the amount of energy needed to produce the food, how low on the food chain it is, and how far is travels to get to the table.
While my perception (and naivety) of vegetarians was that they were not eating meat for animal rights reasons, one of the growing reasons for eating a vegetarian-based diet is the environmental argument. Livestock, and thus meat, are credited with contributing to climate change on a broad scale. It is estimated that 30% of all land surface on the planet is used for livestock. This means there are high quantities of greenhouse gas emissions that affect our climate. Additionally, meat production itself is inefficient and wasteful. Meat production uses tons of energy and water to process and transport.
Continuing with the concern of growing food and climate change, our agricultural practices have shifted dramatically over the last 100 years to utilize pesticides and chemical fertilizers for mass production of produce. Processing, creating, and transporting these fertilizers uses lots of energy. More so, chemical fertilizers themselves can produce harmful chemical components such as nitrous oxide and often require lots of water. Farms and gardens that do not use harmful pesticides, but instead utilize compost or other natural fertilizers, keep carbon and other elements in the soil, and therefore is not affecting our climate to the same degree.
Food that we see in the grocery stores has often traveled a long way before it reaches the shelves. The average meal travels over 1200 km from farm to your plate. 1200 kilometers! By eating locally, food doesn’t travel as far, and therefore doesn’t have a history of greenhouse gas emissions. Other energy and production costs are also reduced by buying local produce and meat. It also supports local economies and farmers.
All of these reasons are important in gaining a fundamental understanding of how food is related to climate change and our environment as a whole. Coming to UNC, I thought eating sustainably was going to be hard without having a car or bike to go to local markets and farmers markets. But events like “Eating to Save the Earth” have highlighted amazing organizations that are focused on food-access and sustainable eating on the UNC campus and more broadly in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, and I now have many resources to help me eat locally and sustainably. I’m going to highlight some of these organizations below. Hopefully by seeing these resources, we can all know of more ways to eat locally, organically, and sustainably.
Hope Gardens – Hope Gardens is a student run non-profit focused on food access. They have an off-campus garden where they grow food for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. Some of the food is donated to local organizations and shelters. Other food is used by members of Hope Gardens in meals they cook with women at the women’s shelter. Hope Gardens also has community gardener plots where community members can grow their own food and practice sustainable eating. Hope Gardens is deeply involved in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro food access and gardening circuit, but has its roots through UNC.
Carolina Dining Services – CDS serves over 4 million meals a year to UNC students, faculty, and other visitors. But CDS is also committed to sustainable practices. They are involved in the community, farmers markets collaborations, and work with the student organization Fair Local Organic Food. They are also focused on composting and recycling and do so with almost all of the leftover food. I encourage you to look around on their sustainability page and see all of their commitments to sustainability – CDS is much more involved and aware than I ever realized!
Sonder Market – Sonder Market is a student run grocery that brings local, healthy, and organic produce right to UNC’s campus. They are committed to selling the food at a price that fits a college student’s budget and supports local agriculture. Students without meal plans, or even just students on-the-go, do not have a place to access nutritious produce on the UNC campus. Sonder Market is doing incredible things bringing local produce right to the UNC campus.
FLO (Fair, Local, Organic) Food – FLO focuses their food-access and sustainability movements around three main tenants: fair, local, and organic. FLO focuses on projects to help connect students and other UNC members to local food, local food purchases, public health, and the environment in relation to food. Their most outstanding project has been their relationship with Carolina Dining Services to encourage and support CDS in sustainable, local, and organic food practices and purchases.
Edible Campus – Edible Campus is the brainchild of Emily Auerbach, now a Chancellor’s Fellow at UNC. Her incredible plan to create edible-landscaping throughout the UNC campus is now coming to fruition all around us – just look at the produce growing outside Davis library! Edible Campus aims to make UNC’s campus landscape edible, organic, and healthy in a way that students can interact with sustainable food wherever they go.