The Green Beat: Sustainability Task Force

By Karen Weldon

A coalition of about ten students, faculty and staff from across campus are working together to create a guide regarding the sustainability of food vendors near Macalester. Formed at the end of last year, the Task Force for Sustainability in Food Purchasing is still in the beginning stages of assessing the sustainability of businesses. Eventually however, the group plans to turn their research into webpage listing the sustainable practices of food vendors so the Macalester community to make informed choices regarding personal dining, grocery shopping and catering. “We’re currently working on interviewing as many businesses as possible about the steps they take to be sustainable,” said Nola Pastor, the sustainability student worker in charge of the task force. Thus far, the group has gotten in touch with local grocers like Kowalski’s and Mississippi Market, as well as a few restaurants and coffee shops on Grand, but they hope to eventually survey all the food providers in the area, including big box stores like Target and Wal-mart. To assess the sustainability of the businesses, the task force asks food vendors about the steps they are taking to promote a healthy environment, social justice, and strong economy. Specifically, the task force questions vendors on the amount of organic, fair trade and/or local foods served; the initiatives taken to reduce waste and energy use, and the efforts taken to support the local community. The group is also interested in expanding their survey to include information on workers and their working conditions, and the transparency of their sustainable practices, but is currently focused on getting the information they’re currently collecting available to the Macalester community as soon they can. However, the Food Purchasing Task Force has yet to decide exactly how they will use and organize their data. The group is considering the options of creating a factual guide explaining the sustainable practices or also rating the businesses on their sustainability—giving businesses with high marks a sign or sticker in recognition of their practices. “It’s hard to figure out which route to take,” Pastor said. “I’m personally a little wary of rating the businesses, since not all businesses contribute in the same way to the community. For example, Tea Garden has great music and art, even though they do have a lot of waste through their throwaway cups. But at the same time, other businesses warrant a sticker to recognize hard work.” Mollie Siebert, another student in the coalition, has a slightly different vision for their guide. Coming from the perspective that college students are busy and don’t have the time to sort through lots of information, a rating system that quickly allows students to make choices about dining and shopping she believes would be a highly effective way to put their information to use. Currently, the biggest challenge is for the members to find the time needed to complete all the surveys. Because the work is voluntary and the task force only has a handful of members, assessing all the businesses is slow. Nonetheless, the members are dedicated to the project for an array of reasons. Lee Olson, the Department Coordinator for Psychology and Neuroscience, got involved in the task force because the large impact food production makes on the environment and her own difficulties figuring which businesses are trying to reduce their ecological footprint. Siebert on the other hand, joined the task force because of personal interest in sustainable food and hopes to get education her peers about the issue. “It would be great if we could take elements that make fast food the favorite option among college students and combine them with the elements that make “slow food” healthier; in other words, make slow food more easily accessible. I think this sustainability guide would do just that for the busy college student,” Siebert said. Moreover, as Suzanne Hansen, the Sustainability Office Manager, explains, the project was not one she created, but rather an idea that students and staff expressed interest in pursuing. Through their interest, the task force was created. Any students, faculty or staff interested in helping create this guide of sustainable food vendors should attend the coalition’s upcoming meeting on Monday, Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. in the Campus Center Room 214 or contact Nola Pastor at [email protected]