Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Thank you for the meal

A sustainable food system is the holistic process from food production to consumer at which can be sustained for future generations. Globally, while we are growing food calories for everyone in the world, we are producing food at unsustainable rates through such inputs as resource distribution, inadequate water irrigation, industrial farming methods, ineffective energy usage, and genetic modification. These inputs create highly-complex networks that use prodigious human demand and large capital investments that are seen today in food production companies, packing and distribution centers, and chain supermarkets, to name a few.

UCI Dining holds such a highly-complex network, as with many colleges, universities, and social institutions around the world. The relationship between producer and consumer has been lost amidst company values of providing good products. Whether or not we realize it, nearly 14,000 meals are served each and every day on campus, half at which are in the dining commons. Not to forget the 31,000 students, and the thousands of faculty, staff, and administration. We live in a county at which agricultural acreage is decreasing, water resources are declining, and corporate-driven business is a highly-prized possession. We are surrounded by desert to the east, growing cities to the north and south, and the grandest ocean to the west. Where else are we to grow the food that we eat?

Societies are a product of university education. To imagine a student who has lost that connection to their foods' producer is a bit alarming. One can only imagine a larger and larger gap of appreciation for that farmer who grew that apple, in turn to become a student's mid-afternoon snack. Has American society seen that gap in the past fifty years?

I have yet to even begun delving into these questions, as I have only touched the brink of them I anticipated that more questions would come out of this project than answered. Here I am at the end of my project with more inquiries to explore. For the past five weeks, I have answered the "what". Now, as with many people, I look forward to answering "how?"

The past one thousand hours or so have had some of the most intensifying learning experiences I have every received. It was a cross between an environmental journalist an student - I was constantly on the threshold of being a student, yet was continuously thirsting for more information. I have never truly invested each and every day of life in the past month and a half to a project like this before. To be honest, I liked it.

I'd like to thank the following people for assisting me throughout this experience:
  • Kelsey M., Matt S., Yvette S., UC Irvine's "Sustainable Foods Challenge" Committee
  • Ryan V., Irvine Students Against Animal Cruelty
  • Robert P., Aramark Regional Director
  • Jack M., UC Irvine Director of Hospitality and Dining
  • Adam Curry, Director of "Bad Seed: The Truth About Our Food"
  • California Student Sustainability Coalition's Food Initiative
  • United Students for Fair Trade
  • Katie B., Tanaka Farms
  • Amrit T., personal company at Tanaka Farms
  • Tritia H., Orange County Farm Bureau
  • Lissa P., personal company at Tustin Farmers' Market
  • Emily B., UC Irvine Health Education
  • Leon B., UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
  • Adam, Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project
  • Maggie L., personal company at the Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project
  • Bridgett, California Certified Organic Farmers
  • Michael Pollan, Author of The Omnivore's Dilemma
  • Vandana Shiva, Editor of The Food Manifesto

I look at food in an entirely different way. I came home this weekend to "get away" and finalize this project. What I realized is that I was "getting away" from my exploration of food. Granted, some people say that "nothing is better than home-cooked meals". Yet, my taste buds have been refined to local and organic food. I haven't had processed foods in months. Peaking into my home's refrigerator, I couldn't help but cringe at the lack of food that I've grown to love in the past six months. Food labels were again full of words I couldn't pronounce, the "pomegranate juice" did not taste the same regardless of the "100% juice" classification, and the tomatoes were plainly, plain. In any case, I enjoyed my conversation with the parentals about food. There is a Vietnamese food culture, while I did grow up with it, I have yet to truly explore.

Looking forward to "home",

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