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Campus crusaders

(article, Megan Holden)

Way back in the 1960s, university food got political. Across campuses, students boycotted non-union grapes in support of California's migrant workers. These days, student activists are pushing their dining halls to provide socially responsible, humane, and eco-friendly food. 

The first category includes fair-trade-certified coffee, sugar, cocoa, and bananas. Fair-trade foods bear seals of approval indicating that the workers and growers who produced the foods were not exploited and were paid a living wage.

The University of Notre Dame and the University of Washington both recently joined hundreds of campuses that serve fair-trade-certified coffee. Student groups, including local members of Amnesty International and United Students for Fair Trade, prodded campus dining halls to make the switch. 

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Students interested in the second category — humane food — have rallied around the cage-free-egg movement. The Humane Society has provided critical support to these animal-rights activists with a campaign against battery eggs begun in 2005.

Last winter, Harvard students petitioned their school to eliminate battery-produced eggs from its cafeterias. By spring, Harvard had joined Dartmouth, Tufts, and UC Berkeley — more than 150 campuses in all — in switching to cage-free eggs in its dining halls. 

Finally, students focused on the third category — eco-friendly food — tend to tout the virtues of local and organic food. Brown University’s Community Harvest program brings local apples, cherry tomatoes, and milk to campus along with fair-traded foods. Weekly student harvest crews connect students to local Rhode Island farms. Likewise, Skidmore College recently began buying more local produce in response to student requests for local, organic foods. 

Of course, cost is a stumbling block to ethical eating on campus. But even here, students have proved a catalyst for change. At Middlebury College, students organized educational events and coffeehouses to spread the word about fair-trade coffee. They agreed to spearhead a “coffee for waste” program in which they educated fellow diners on reducing food waste. After dining halls cut waste by 15 to 40 percent, the college agreed to buy the more costly fair-trade coffee.

There's more to education than just hitting the books.

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