At the beginning of our second quarter of English class with Professor Leither, he said he wanted us to think about sustainability and its implications, because it was going to be our main focus for the next eleven weeks of school. I thought of my own attempts to be sustainable: throwing my water bottles in the blue recycling bin, taking reasonably quick showers to save water, turning off lights that I wasn’t using to save energy. Until watching the documentary film Cowspiracy did my classmates and I truly understand the efforts that sustainability requires. While saving energy and water were worthwhile attempts, they did not get at the heart of the issue of sustainability. As we learned in the film, animal agriculture, a practice extremely prevalent in our economy as well as our homes, is the greatest contributor to global warming and rival of sustainability efforts throughout the world.
There is a big initiative on campus at Santa Clara University for environmental sustainability. Santa Clara has made clear to everyone throughout its busy campus that sustainability is a main priority for the institution. Solar panels line many SCU buildings’ roofs. Bon Appetit, the company that provides food for the university, purchases ingredients locally to reduce emissions. In the well-kept plants that line the walkways throughout the campus, there are signs reading “Reclaimed Water, Do Not Drink”. Anyone can choose when throwing something away to send their trash to the landfill, compost, or to be recycled. The Leavey Center, the basketball stadium at Santa Clara University where most of the student body gathers weekly for games, advertises the food served throughout campus as “working toward a sustainable future”. The casual observer would conclude that Santa Clara University is doing everything they can to preserve and protect the environment for future generations.
Despite these honest efforts toward sustainability throughout campus, Santa Clara University ignores the largest cause of pollution, animal agriculture, when providing options for SCU students. The single greatest contributor to climate change throughout the world is animal agriculture. Eating meats and other animal products at the rate the current population consumes them is the most unsustainable practice on campus. While Santa Clara University attempts to incorporate sustainable practices, they disregard the main contributor toward unsustainability. Without effectively advertising vegan alternatives as more sustainable and better for the earth’s future, Santa Clara mindlessly serves meat to the meat eater who simply does not know better.
No matter the time and resources that the university puts into creating a sustainable future, they will never achieve their goal. This is because their premise is flawed. They are attempting to be more sustainable by doing things like powering the school with solar panels, and sourcing their food from local farms to reduce transportation time. These are a start but have little effect on combating the biggest issue of the strain animal agriculture puts on the environment. The best way for SCU to take the next step in sustainability is to promote a vegan lifestyle.
According to a 2006 report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, “livestock cultivation, chiefly for meat production, accounts for nearly one-fifth of total worldwide greenhouse gases, the main drivers of global warming. The global meat industry pollutes more than the transportation sector” (ecological). The Environmental Working Group also conducted a study and found that, “if a four-person family stops eating meat and cheese for one week, they benefit the environment as much as if they stopped driving their car for 35 weeks” (ecological).
If the school decided that this was the path to take, and decided to push veganism, they would be a problem. The amount of resistance they would receive would be astronomical, kids would be picketing in the quad to get there meat back, and SCU would be forced to comply, which is where we get to the main problem. At Santa Clara University, there is an overwhelmingly negative connotation with vegans and veganism. For this project, we decided to get the opinions of real SCU students about many things related to sustainability and vegans. Here is what we found.
The overall results were astonishing. 87.5% of the people interviewed had negative connotations to vegans while 75% had positive associations with meat.
Bon Appetit has a responsibility as a food provider at Santa Clara, who places a lot of importance on sustainability to at least make an effort to get people to opt for the vegan and vegetarian options. To their credit, they do have a plan for environmental sustainability. Bon Appetit introduced a ‘Low Carbon Plan’ in 2007 to tackle climate change with these 5 guiding principles: ‘Don’t waste food’, ‘Make seasonal and regional your food mantra’, ‘moooove away from beef and cheese’, ‘stop flying fish and fruit – stop buying air-freighted food’, and ‘if it’s processed and packaged, skip it’ All the things they say they are doing but is not what is actually happening (Bon Appétit Management Company.). Though there may be issues with these 5 guiding principles to a low carbon diet, it is a step in the right direction towards a more sustainable food provider. That being said, I have never seen anything about this advertised in or around Benson. This initiative was buried deep in the Bon Appetit site and to ‘learn more’ they linked me to a 10 question quiz that looked like a game for an elementary school student (http://www.eatlowcarbon.org/ check it out for some afternoon fun). On top of this, it seems that Bon Appetit is not even following their own guiding principles. Bananas, apples and oranges are sold year round even when not in season (bananas are used as an example in the quiz made by Bon Appetit as a large contributor to pollution because air transportation is a major contributor to carbon emissions). The most popular place to eat, Tailgaters’ signature dish, the Bronco Burger, contains beef and cheese. The signature dish of La Parilla, the Bronco Burrito also contains beef and cheese. It seems as if I hear the echo of someone shouting hypocrisy, but that may be my imagination.
Santa Clara is a sustainability conscious school filled with people who imagine a sustainable world. A problem is that a lot of people really just don’t know that their food choices could make a lot more of an impact than the car they drive and whether or not they turn the lights off when they leave rooms. If they were really serious about sustainability and making an impact, they would offer only vegan and vegetarian options to the students. Understandably, as a business that has to feed students, they supply what is being demanded. What’s being demanded? Meat. As we demonstrated in our video, the average SCU student wants meat on their plate when they get a meal at Benson from Bon Appetit. Bon Appetit could increase demand for vegan and vegetarian options by advertising more about the impact of the food we are all eating and suggest alternatives like the vegan and vegetarian options they have. Just by spreading the knowledge, they would generate more demand for vegan and vegetarian options. They would not have to supply as much of the things they guide against in their guiding principles as a first step away from being total hypocrites. Hopefully this would also inspire a more comprehensive guide to low carbon eating where meats are cut out altogether.
While demand for meat products and meals may be high, the negative impact that farming animals has on our environment and future is even greater. Raising animals for slaughter “produces 8-18% of greenhouse-gas emissions”. Due to the exorbitant amount of phosphorous created, animal agriculture causes oceanic dead zones, and a “fifth of the world’s pasture has been spoilt by overgrazing” (Meat and Greens).Vegans are the real solution to creating a sustainable world. However, there is certainly a lack of promotion for the vegan lifestyle at Santa Clara University and in Benson, its main dining hall. The only options for vegans at the multiple food stations are pasta, salads, tofu, and soy chicken. While pasta and salad may taste great, it is difficult to get the necessary protein needed every day. Tofu, however, provides protein for vegans but it simply has a negative stigma surrounding it and looks nasty. SCU students who see tofu on the menu just skim over it and rarely order it because it’s ingrained in them that it is weird. The last choice vegans have is the soy chicken that is offered at only one of the seven food stations within Benson. Students don’t try this beneficial alternative because “fake” chicken is not culturally accepted yet. It seems foreign and they don’t know about the tremendous benefits of not eating meat, so they continue with their old habits of eating meat. Instead of using the innovative, sustainable “fake” meat options to satiate the desires of students, Benson simply lists it on one menu as an additive to say that they are welcoming to vegans. Hanan Alkouh, a developer of meat-looking seaweed, believes that a “viable sustainable alternative […] must not only behave and taste like meat, but also look like meat” (Graver). Soy chicken does this, however, students aren’t switching to actual solutions because they don’t know that eating meat is a pressing problem. The problem is not only the lack of creativity and quantity of vegan options, but also the lack of education that Santa Clara University provides its students about the unsustainability of meat.
Although Santa Clara University appears to take animal agriculture seriously, their actions don’t truly align with their words. If SCU acted on their value of sustainability, Benson would not only have vegan meals, but would also promote them. In reality, Benson offers only a few vegan meals scattered throughout the endless menus filled with meat. There isn’t one food station on campus dedicated to offering vegan dishes or raising awareness about the unsustainability of meat. Vegan dishes don’t stand out on the menus nor do their sustainability efforts stand out anywhere in Benson. Instead, they fade into the background of the tasty, yet unsustainable sources of food like meat because of the confusion created by Santa Clara University regarding what is sustainable.
Vegans have an undeniably bad reputation for being “preachy, over-zealous activists” (Orner). But why do we shame them for essentially saving the planet we all live on? It’s time we all realize that what you, as a meat-eater, put in your mouth has serious repercussions to our environment. Stop prejudicing against vegans who want nothing more than a sustainable world. It starts here on our beautiful and “sustainable” campus at Santa Clara University. Go ahead and try some tofu for once, you might be surprised. Once your paradigm shifts, you’re one step closer to making the world a better place.
Bon Appétit Management Company. Low Carbon Diet. Tri.be, http://www.bamco.com/timeline/low-carbon-diet/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.
“Ecological Footprint of a Vegan Diet Vs. Carnivorous Diet.” LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 08 Sept. 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
Graver, David. “Hanan Alkouh’s Sea-Meat.” Cool Hunting. Cool Hunting, 09 May 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
“Meat and Greens.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
Orner, Danielle. “That Awkward Moment When I Tell People I’m Vegan.” Blog post. Mindbodygreen. N.p., 30 July 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.