Thursday, February 14, 2008

Food Catalyst. Yep, Catalyst.

“On college campuses, in religious organizations, among certain state and national legislators, in co-op movements, and among ecology and natural food groups, there is a feeling that food is the right place to start to focus attention and energy for change." - Francis Moore

Oh so true, Sir Moore. Oh so true.

Change was made on January 31, 2008 - only three weeks ago - when UC Irvine hosted the first annual Focus the Nation, an educational teach-in about climate change solutions alongside 1,700+ colleges and universities. The afternoon had plans for an entirely sustainable and delicious luncheon for the event's guests. Prior to that, it was pleasant to be at a round table with UCI Dining administrators, Aramark representatives, Catering Directors, and fellow students in organizing such a feat. UCI Dining contracted with Organic To-Go, a local catering and delivery company specializing in organic food.

It was awe-inspiring to see enthused administrators towards the sustainable movement. My favorite part of one of the meetings leading up to FtN was when one administrator noted how comparable biodegradable utensils and eating-ware are to conventional plastic ones currently used on campus. Let's just say my lightbulb was just as large as their's! Questions were asked, and new terms such as "locally-grown", "organic", and "certified-humane" were part of the discussion. I loved it.

The luncheon was absolute magic. Three main dishes were served:

- vegan sandwiches with olive paste, tomatoes, spinach, mashed avocado, soy mazzarella, red onion, and artisan bread

- vegetarian Thai peanut sauce wraps with cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and wheat tortillas

- Chicken-pesto sandwich with tomatoes, spinach, mazzarella, and wheat bread.

Organic cookies and brownies teased the sweet-tooth lovers, and donated organic fruit from various local Farmers' Markets rounded out the meal. Food was served on entirely biodegradable corn-processed plates and utensils, and napkins were from recycled post-paper product.

In essence, Focus the Nation was a catalyst for a new movement I see brewing on campus. Now it's time for all stakeholders to come to the table for seconds.

Check out what happened at UC Irvine's Focus the Nation:

I'm leading a student-initiated campaign for a sustainable food procurement plan at UC Irvine called "The Sustainable Food Challenge". Our TSFC Mission is to "create and implement clear guidelines that prioritize local, organic, and socially-responsible food purchasing, waste-reduction and green-dining facility standards at UC Irvine. In turn, this supports the health of consumers & workers, local economies, the environment, and sustainable agriculture."

In its early stages, I've encountered the beauty and challenges of community organizing. Like any organization, there are issues of available resources, people, time, and funding. We're truly organic in form. As we meet with administrators from UCI Dining, Aramark (the company UCI contracts its food services with), and Student Affairs, prospects and momentum are high as actions proceed. Our goals include forming a self-sustaining Food Services working group with faculty, administration, staff, and students and finalizing a sustainable procurement plan.

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