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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Mohapatra

Food Sustainability-at places of learning (Part 1)

New York City is home to 215 higher education institutions that are responsible for educating nearly 500,000 students[i].  

Dining facilities have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of their respective universities. Think food miles, think water, excess chemicals, food waste and landfills etc. The good news is that over the years, food sustainability has gained prominence at Universities and a lot is being done to address food sustainability in day-to-day operations. Presently, some colleges are even offering food related programs, the two most popular programs being NYU’s Master in Food Studies and ‘The New School Programs on Food Studies’.

Being a recent graduate from Columbia University’s MS in Sustainability Management with a focus on and interest in sustainable food systems, I thought it would be a great idea to research, observe, and evaluate how educational institutions are practicing food sustainability on their own campuses.  My hope was to be pleasantly surprised with the opportunities and solutions offered as well as to make aware of and share various challenges this particular sector faces.

This blog piece is divided into two sections. Part 1 focuses on various offerings and its implementations at certain key NYC educational institutes. I decided to focus on obviously my alma mater but also some of the other highly visible and public institutes. Part 2 dwells into details of Sustainable Food practices at Columbia University in specific.

Some overall measures being instituted are listed in this comparison table:

 A little bit more information about some of the programs mentioned above:

Meatless Mondays: This is an international initiative to reduce the amount of meat in our diet by 15% to improve personal health and the health of the planet. Just one day a week can help reduce the risk of cancers, heart disease &Type 2 Diabetes. Click here for more information.

Sustainable Seafood: When seafood offered is based on Seafood Watch safe list based on guidelines set by non-profit organization’s programs such as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. This ensures fish offered on a daily basis are from the fish populations that are plentiful and caught or farmed according to sustainability standards.

Meet Your New Fitness Pal (NYU specific): A calorie counter, diet tracker and exercise journal all in one, the free My Fitness Pal app is meant to help students stay on track with their health goals. It also has the ability to link to the menus of various university dining locations allowing for healthier eating habits.

Food Waste: Food waste at places of education can be categorized into two buckets, consumer waste and pre-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste refers to the food wasted by dining operators. Universities especially have large food operations. These large operations require a system’s approach to help them identify what, where and why waste was occurring to avoid the same in future. Similarly, preventing consumer waste at universities requires constant education followed by behavior changing strategies. Some of these include introducing students to tray less dining, partnering up with a local food charity, creating a student led garden using in house compost etc.

Tray less dining: Removing trays throughout University cafeterias has resulted in savings in the thousands of gallons of water per day (spent in washing the trays) and approximately 50 pounds of food waste per meal (from students taking only what they can carry and therefore eat).

Sources: NYU Sustainability New School Sustainability Columbia Sustainability in action 1 2 Leanpath Case Study: 3

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