Food for thought: Thoughts on food

By Allison Stewart

I am calling it official: Food is a big deal. More specifically, where our food comes from and how and where it was obtained is important. Recently at Mac, Abby Colehour ’12 completed the Real Food Calculator, a student tool that tracks and catagorizes Cafeteria purchasing. The results are remarkable in light of schools across the country: Café Mac (through Bon Appetit Management Co.) buys approximately 27 percent “real food.” Other colleges which have completed the calculator, like the UC system, had startlingly low results- their cafeterias only had about 8percent “real food”.

On top of this, Macalester was host to the Midwest Real Food Summit, a conference that brought 75 students from across the region to discuss sustainable foods and gardening. Students and Local organizations presented workshops on what students can contribue to the sustainable food movement.

If we look at other areas on campus, composting is the new hot thing, with several different projects currently underway, and the composting heap by the garden is overflowing and making dirt. The MULCH garden just planted for the 2010 season, and this past fall’s Harvest Fest had record attendance numbers.

When looking at the facts, it seems like Macalester College is embracing food as a way to follow our sustainability tenet. But given that eating food is something all Macalester community members engage in on a daily basis, our relationship to food should be more than just caloric intake. Dorm kitchens on campus don’t have tools for students to cook a homecooked meal, and instead have vending machines!

Departments around campus will tout that they have food at a meeting, only for students to be greeted by Jimmy Johns or greasy pizza. The MULCH garden was moved from a space that is currently covered by the Leonard Center to a space less than half the size and with zero prominence on campus. And thinking about the Real Food Calculator results, Café Mac doesn’t purchase any organic, sustainable, or fair trade fruit.

I know that many people think that I am a hippie because I garden, or that I am unrealistic because I advocated co-ops, but even if you shop at Rainbow, or only eat in Café Mac, or are a freegan who dumpster dives, food can largely dictate how healthy we are, how happy we are, and what principles we live by. Macalester’s own ethics of multiculturalism, civic engagement, and even Global Citizenship can be applied to our relationship with food. Café Mac is not the only place on campus we encounter food, so it shouldn’t be the only place that is analyzing its food purchasing. Many off-campus students eat it rarely. We cannot afford to only have Bon Appetit or Mac environmentalists (or Michelle Obama, for that matter) deal with the important stuff like which corporations we institutionally support, what chemicals we expose our bodies to, and which communities we marginalize by ignoring their food preferences. These are all issues that people at Mac care about, and issues that pertain to food choices as well.

I am sick of the typical Mac events that promote multiculturalism, understanding, and citizenship. Orgs and Departments alike try to woo students to events by offering food. “Pizza and Politics”, “Sandwiches and Scholarship”, “Soup and Substance”, and all the rest that do the same thing: feed us crappy food. At each of these events, students are too ravenous to pay attention to the speaker. We have become starved of nutrition and mindful eating. Lets have what we put into our bodies be a conscientious act that reflects our values and our taste. I value food that won’t give kids diabetes; I value food that lets small farmers manage their land sustainably; I value food that is spicy, different, and “ethnic”.

Don’t let other people care about food for you. YOU should care about what stuff goes into your body and its effects on the environment and the global economy.

Allison Stewart can be reached at [email protected]