How does our campus food system affect climate change? What can we do as a community to curb the ways our eating habits contribute to climate change? How can our food system be more energy efficient, or actively work to mitigate climate change? These are the questions that Chris Gassman, featured lecturer at last week’s Campus Food and Energy Seminar, strives to answer every day in his work as the Carbon Foodprint Project Manager for Compass Group North America.
The seminar opened with remarks by Alison Nihart, an Assistant to the Food Systems Initiative, and Kate Blofson, a graduate assistant in the Office of Sustainability. Both speakers discussed how this seminar would build upon the previous seminar, which focused on the energy intensity of food production, and the connections to UVM’s climate commitments and climate action plans.
Chris Gassman has over 10 years of experience in the sustainability field and has held his current position for 4 years. He remarked, “there’s a lot of issues on the spectrum, but I don’t see one greater than climate change.” Despite the immensity of climate change, Gassman argued there is great progress to be made by increasing awareness and approaching the problem with solutions-based thinking.
On a day to day basis, Gassman’s job is to find solutions for his company’s clients (usually university dining services) to improve their environmental performance and reduce their impacts on climate change. He believes that finding solutions to climate change and improving energy efficiency overall is the “new normal” of the expectations of his clients, much like extreme weather patterns have become our society’s “new normal” in the era of climate change.
One sobering effect of climate change is that it will drive up food prices and cause food to spoil faster and more frequently. He argued that there is a lot to be done to curb the effects of climate change in campus dining services, of all places! Gassman cited efforts to improve the efficiency of campus kitchens, curb food waste, and find stealthy ways to lessen the amount of energy intensive foods, like beef and cheese, available on clients’ menus through strategically sustainable “menu engineering”. Using data generated by the Carbon Foodprint Toolkit,
Missouri State University saved 1 million gallons of water per year, and Green Mountain College offered students for-credit opportunities to study their campus food system.
The presentation ended with a lengthy question and answer section fueled by students, faculty, and community members.
As an Environmental Studies students with an interest in food systems, I am personally interested in finding ways to reduce my own impact on the climate. While this was not mentioned during the seminar, I appreciate the ways UVM dining services strives to produce less waste by composting and providing ecoware and sporks. Part of my reasons for being a vegetarian are the climate effects of producing meat. Since coming to UVM, I have become accustomed to eating vegan meals regularly. I can now see that providing
vegan options at campus dining facilities is not only an issue of accessibility, but also a way that UDS is doing its part to curb climate change and reduce the energy impact of our campus food system. I would like to see more efforts to show students which food choices they make will have the least impact on the environment. There are so many environmentally-minded students at UVM, who I believe would appreciate knowing more about the impacts of the food they choose to eat on a daily basis. Even if it’s just in the form of an informative label or sign.
The Campus Food and Energy Seminar Series has proved itself to be a lively and interesting way to examine the UVM food system as a community. I highly encourage members of our community with an interest in energy, food systems, or environmental studies to attend the next seminar!
The Clean Energy Fund and Food Systems Initiative have 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 for a sustainable food system on campus.
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 UVM Office of Sustainability is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE--link) and works to advance sustainability and environmental responsibility at UVM.
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.