How Attainable is Sustainable?

In 2010 the movie Inception blew hundreds of thousands of people’s minds, making them rethink  how dreams and the mind works. There was one specific piece of the movie which frustrated many which is the end when the audience is shown that the topspin is still spinning.

For those that haven’t seen the movie or need a refresher, the movie is about a man named Cobb, who is able to consciously go into dreams and with new technology can go into other people’s dreams as well. He has a topspin which he spins so he knows whether he is dreaming or awake. If it’s spinning he’s dreaming, if it stops he’s awake.

At the end of the movie it is revealed that the topspin is still spinning which suggests that he is still asleep. However, this leaves this feeling of betrayal or being lied to because the whole movie had already been resolved. Cobb had done what he needed to do and he had returned to his wife and kids and the movie was supposed to end happily with all loose ends tied nicely, like a cute little present. But, instead, the audience is left with questions about whether or not it was all real or if it was just a dream.

Think about that feeling of being lied to. Could marketing and ‘interesting’ food names be influencing you to make the wrong food choices?

Are we being deceived into buying the most profitable product rather than the most sustainable product because of the way it is marketed?

The Center for Sustainability at Santa Clara University helps to uphold the standard of sustainability throughout every aspect of the school, meaning that one of the main goals of SCU is to be environmentally sensitive and carbon conscious. The university prides itself as being a green campus and it encourages students to participate in sustainable lifestyle practices. Throughout the school you will see that there are usually two or three separate garbage bins: one for landfill products, one for recycling products, and another for compostable products. Personally, I have never thought of separating compostable products from the landfill or recycling products. Usually, there’s one garbage bin for everything that isn’t recyclable and another for recyclables. Not only that, their dining hall, the Benson Memorial Center, serves some vegan products that are locally grown which further supports the idea that SCU is doing their part to be sustainable. On the website of the Center for Sustainability at SCU you will find the university’s commitments to sustainability. SCU appears to be the place where other institutions, families, and individuals can learn from on how to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Although advertisements and descriptions of food sold at Santa Clara University provide students with valuable information so they can make educated choices, many of Bon Appetit’s marketing strategies favor sales over accuracy, resulting in misinformed students who then mistakenly support unsustainable products and practices. Sustainability is compromised when the university begins to prioritize sales over their initial standards. There is a conflict of interest at play; on one hand the university wants to promote sustainability, but on the other hand they need to create revenue in order to keep the university open. The majority of students at SCU eat meat and that is a fact that is known just by observing how many students buy the meat products served in Benson. Students are not being adequately educated about the food choices they make and the impact that has on the planet.

We are not the only ones to notice this trend.  Kip Anderson is your classic environmentalist living in San Francisco, California.  With messy hair, grungy clothes, and a vintage volkswagen, he fits that stereotypical image of a ”hippy” so to speak. He began his environmental journey with conservation: water by taking shorter showers, plastic and oil by using reusable bags, and gas and the atmosphere by riding his bike absolutely everywhere, even up those daunting San Francisco hills. He definitely gives off an earthy, almost bohemian vibe from his dirty beige ballcap to what looks like twenty plants he has covering his home desk.  In recent years he discovered that though taking a quick shower and having a “brown garden” are helpful, these efforts are not doing nearly enough. In fact, the largest environmental issue our planet is facing is the raising of agricultural animals, particularly cows, chickens, and pigs. Anderson was appalled that no one had ever researched this subject and no government or activist agency had any information on it.  From this stemmed his documentary Cowspiracy highlighting how eating animals and animal products is not sustainable. Kip Anderson did hours upon hours of research coming up with statistics emphasizing how detrimental the agricultural system is to our planet: a quarter pound hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce which is equivalent to two months worth of water used when showering, cows eat approximately 145 pounds of feed per day and drink about 35 gallons of water, just one gallon of milk requires 1000 gallons of water (Cowspiracy), and the list of these shocking facts goes on and on.  

Raising livestock creates more greenhouse gas emissions than all modes of transportation combined

Despite Anderson’s rather relaxed persona and monotone voice, the extreme passion he has still shines through.  It is similar to the passion exhibited by John Safran Foer, the author of Eating Animals.  Foer is less of an environmentalist and typically focuses more on the morality aspect of the subject but still discusses the lack of sustainability in the meat market when describing Smithfield, a meat producer’s, method of disposing animal waste.  In 1995, “Smithfield spilled more than twenty million gallons of lagoon waste into the New River in North Carolina. The spill remains the largest environmental disaster of its kind and is twice as big as the iconic Exxon Valdez spill six years earlier. The spill released enough liquid manure to fill 250 Olympic-sized swimming pools” (Foer 178).

Why are facts like these not common knowledge?

What allows our ignorance to continue?

Well let me ask you this -how many slogans and brands do you know?

First impressions are crucial to human interaction. While we often are warned not to judge too quickly, appearance is the first thing we see, and rather instinctively it creates a positive or negative response in us. Products follow the same rule. But rather than eyes or facial features, our first impressions of products are a result of their slogans and logos. Arguably, they are even more significant than the initial impression we create towards people because they decide our next consumerist step.

“Just do it”-Nike. “Think different”-Apple. “Live Mas”-Taco Bell.

They are all catchy, memorable, and more importantly don’t express exactly what their brand or company does or sells.

How can you blame them?

As the main goal of making a product is to sell it and reach as many customers as possible, businesses create names that are attractive and enticing. Products often have to be portrayed this way simply because of how we, as consumers, respond to visual input. For a business to be successful they have to change the name to something catchy and memorable (“Catchy Names for a Business”). Who would want eyeshadows that are called “brown”, “green”, and “black” when you could get others named “sun kissed babe”, “jade”, and “midnight”? “Nike” or “expensive activewear”? “Apple” or “software company”? “Taco Bell” or “cheap, fake Mexican food”? We want things that tempt us, things that are interesting, things that would subsequently make our lives and ourselves seem more appealing. Spending hours in reality, we want something that transports us to fantasy.

The problem? The same ideology applies to food.

Food is rarely called out for what it is. And I don’t mean a McDonald’s scandal where they claim their hamburger patties are beef when they actually contain horse meat in it. “Beef” is just one example of how naming can change our perception of reality. In actuality, it is cow – a live and arguably cute animal.

Central Kitchen, a small sit down restaurant in San Francisco is unique in more than just one way. Owned by local chef Thomas McNaughton, it gives neighbors and tourists alike the authenticity and ambiance of the city. It has that cozy atmosphere one craves on a rainy San Francisco day and the new age aesthetic youthful city dwellers covet. It pushes the boundaries – recently, too far.

The restaurant was based on the idea of naming food items in their most basic forms. Summed up quite nicely at the end of their mantra, “It’s an onion. Just call it out for what it is.” Rather than being accepted by a city that commonly welcomes change, Central Kitchen experienced financial misfortune. With no end in sight, the owners contacted marketing strategist Anna Roth to review their situation. Thankfully, she found-and fixed-the problems: the color and type of paper the menu was printed on, too long of a slogan, and non appetizing meal options and names.

Don’t worry, “[they] still have the pig ears”. As Chef McNaughton puts it,“It’s just how we make the pig ears sound that makes the difference” (Roth).

Bon Appetit Catering Service -which provides Santa Clara University with all of their food- takes another approach. They pride themselves on being the foodservice industry’s “most socially responsible company” (About). They make this claim because they have programs such as the Farm to Fork Program. The Farm to Fork Program is a program which require the Bon Appetit chefs to buy twenty percent of their ingredients from local farmers within a one hundred and fifty mile range from their kitchens. Bon Appetit also makes the claim that they are “committed to serving plentiful vegetarian/ vegan options at every meal for decades” (Meating). However, despite the catering company’s overall effort to be sustainable and healthy, it is ultimately Santa Clara University’s decision about what gets served in the cafeteria to their students.

             Right now at Santa Clara University, there is only two meal stations (Fresco and The Farmers Pantry) that focus on serving vegetarian options, and only one of them is open for early dinner hours on the weekdays. The other meal stations in the cafeteria serve unhealthy, fattening and unsustainable food. For example, the only place open on campus late at night is Tailgaters. Almost every meal you can eat at Tailgaters involves eating some kind of meat. Exemplified by their signature menu items: “The Bronco Burger” (1/4 pound of beef patty with American cheese) and “The Spicy Chicken Sandwich” (crispy chicken tenders with pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayonnaise).

             Since Bon Appetit Catering does offer healthy options, yet these options are not being served in Santa Clara University’s cafeteria, it is not Bon Appetit which needs to change their food service practices but SCU that needs to change the options within their cafeteria. Santa Clara prides itself and advertises the school as having “leadership in developing a more sustainable way of living” (University). However, the food options that they make the decision to provide to their students are not nearly as sustainable as it could be.

             For our experiment, we created a menu with renamed popular food items that are sold in Benson. For example, we renamed cereal and milk “cereal with baby cow growth fluid” and scrambled eggs as “scrambled chicken embryos” on our menu. We then took this menu to Benson during a busy lunch hour and showed it to the students there in order to make them more aware of what they’re actually eating (despite the false labeling printed on the Benson cafeteria menus). When asked how this made them feel, everyone replied with something along the lines of: “it makes me feel bad about what I’m eating” and that they would consider changing their diet to something more sustainable.

Sammi Bennett, a Sophomore at Santa Clara University replied that she already “makes the daily choice to eat a vegan diet” (Bennet) because she was previously educated about the negative effects that eating a carnivorous diet has on the environment as well as your body, especially by the means we produce meat products today. Our goal with this experiment was to educate other students at Santa Clara University about what they’re really eating, despite the labels put on their food choices, in hopes that they’ll change their diet’s to match Sammi’s which in return would make for a more sustainable campus.

Ultimately, the food industry is using catchy slogans as well as misleading wording in order to convince the uninformed consumer to buy their products, and Santa Clara University’s Bon Appetit is no exception. As seen through our experiment, when foods are called what they do literally mean, like “baby cow growth fluid”, students are less inclined to eat the products than they are otherwise. If students can accept that these foods are not only worse for their health but also worse for the environment, they could change their eating habits which would lead to many people leading more sustainable lifestyles. Vegetarianism and veganism are much more sustainable for the environment, and for individual health, and we believe false labeling is a way of selling a product rather than watching out for the health of students, as well as of the environment.

Ellie Stoutt, Erica Cabrera, Claire Zyfers, Uma Kirloskar, Dana Militante


Works Cited

Conspiracy. Dir. Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. 2015. Web.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

Brandings. “Catchy Names for a Business.” Brandings, Accessed 30 Jan. 2017.

Roth, Anna. “A Changing Menu: Subtle Science of how Words make a Meal.” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Oct. 2016, A-changing-menu-Subtle-science-of-how-words-make-9929172.php. Accessed 19 Jan. 2017.

Bennet, Sammi. Personal interview. 25 January. 2017.

Sustainable Food. N.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. <>.

Eating Meat Is NOT Sustainable. N.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. <>.

University, Santa Clara. “Sustainability Policy.” Sustainability Policy – University Commitments – Sustainability at SCU – Santa Clara University. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.

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