Eating Local = Thinking Global

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So that’s where pineapples come from! Spotted on a spring break well-spent in El Salvador.

Academic institutions do a lot of things. They educate the future leaders of our country, wreak havoc on the lives of high school students when acceptance letters start (or don’t start) rolling in, take our parent’s hard-earned money…you get the picture. But universities nationwide are actually some of the biggest supporters and funders of sustainability projects and the “farm-to-college” model that brings local produce to dining halls and campus farmer’s markets.

At Tufts, the administration tries to encourage a “think global, buy local” attitude when it comes to the quality of foods offered on meal plans and accessible nearby. Locally and regionally grown food is used when possible to cut down on transportation and environmental costs and a seasonal farmer’s market brings community members right to campus to share their produce with students (for more information, go here). I can honestly say that one of the things I like most about my university is its commitment to food-centered and nutrition-based initiatives. When friends would visit and I would take them to eat, I was proud knowing that my dining hall was better – because it certainly wasn’t bigger – than theirs. (Yes, I know, I’m a little competitive, but hey! Have you ever tried to eat at UConn? For a school with the nation’s first agricultural program, they really need to step up their dining halls.)

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Some healthy (and maybe even locally produced!) options at Dewick Dining Hall, Tufts University. My plates certainly never looked like this…but they could have!

Anthropology is one discipline that is giving students, administrators, and community organizers the framework to engage in these local and sustainable initiatives. For a comprehensive look at which colleges around the country are making the effort and how they’re doing it, check out this article about campus food projects. The author, a professor of anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, relates one student’s surprised reaction upon walking past a small food garden on campus: “Oh…so that’s how broccoli grows!” I think this anecdote really captures the important work sustainable food projects are doing and must continue to do on campuses across the country. Many college students, especially those at top-tier universities, are a privileged bunch compared to, say, the millions of Americans identified as “the working poor.” And local produce and sustainability projects like pesticide-free CSAs and organic urban farming are frequently criticized for only catering to the “elite” and not to the people who actually need their efforts. But, as I think this story makes clear, the average college student might not even know where broccoli comes from! And in order for these movements to be successful among any demographic in our society, we all need to be a bit more knowledgeable about the origins of our food.

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