The Clean Energy Fund and Food Systems Initiative sponsored this semester’s Campus Food and Energy seminar series. The goal of the series is to engage in critical dialogue about UVM’s current food system and, eventually, use the feedback compiled at the seminars to create a meaningful action plan to make our community food system more environmentally friendly and less energy intensive.
The seminar opened with brief remarks by Doug Lantagne, a UVM alumnus and director of the Food Systems Initiative. To an audience of professors, staff, students, and Burlington community members, Lantagne spoke out about the important role scholarship and academic institutions can have within food systems. He argued that UVM has a duty to “use its own dining service to interact with the Burlington community and be a model of food systems values,” in an effort that will combine the work of the Food Systems Initiative, the Office of Sustainability, and the Clean Energy Fund. Lantagne praised UVM’s adoption of the Real Food Campus Committment, which is a pledge to buy at least 20% real food annually by 2020. Lantagne asserted that, given the expiration of Sodexo’s contract with the school in July 2015, it is imperative that student feedback is taken into account when drafting a new dining contract.
Eric Garza, a UVM PhD graduate and lecturer in the Rubenstein School, followed Lantagne’s talk with an informative lecture drawing upon his own research and educating the audience about the ratio of energy inputs to calories in different aspects of agriculture. One of his most persuasive points surrounded the fact that the price of food has risen greatly over the past ten years. This spike in food prices is virtually in sync with the rise in oil prices because our current food system requires a lot of petroleum-intensive transportation. Therefore, food prices are lower when food is produced in the same community it is consumed in, not to mention the fact that reduced transportation is more energy efficient. Garza also pointed out that as a country, the US puts in far more energy into its food systems than it receives in units of calories. Not only do the types of foods we eat have a lot to do with the amount of energy used to produce them, but so do the ways in which they are transported.
Following Garza’s talk, there was a lengthy question and answer period in which seminar attendees asked for clarification about Garza’s data and brainstormed about how our university as a community can contribute to a better, more sustainable food system. Doug Lantagne made a strong argument for the relationship between funding research about food systems, like the types of endeavors Garza works on in his classes, and our values as an institution. All audience feedback was recorded by a note taker.
The first Campus Food and Energy seminar was an informative and exciting community event. I would highly recommend attending the next seminar in the series for any UVM students or community members interested in creating a positive change in our campus’ food system! Any students interested in these topics should also consider taking one of the Food Systems classes Eric Garza regularly teaches in an upcoming semester.
Food Systems Initiative:The UVM Food Systems Initiative is an transdisciplinary academic effort that includes research and the Food Systems minor in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, among other endeavors.
Office of Sustainability:The Office of Sustainability aims to foster sustainable development and promote environmental responsibility at the University of Vermont by strategically bridging the academic activities of teaching, research, and outreach with the operations of the University.
Clean Energy Fund: The Clean Energy Fund is the result of a self-imposed $10 student fee that works to advance renewable energy at UVM. ()
Real Food Challenge: In 2012, the University of Vermont became the fifth school in the country to sign on to the Real Food Challenge. UVM has agreed to work with University Dining Services to buy at least 20% real food annually by 2020, with “real food” being defined as local, sustainable, fair trade, and humane. UVM uses the “Real Food Calculator” to calculate the amount of “real food” consumed on campus. As of Fall 2012, UVM has purchased 13.58% real food, and the numbers keep growing.