Angela Babb, Strategic Planning for Sustainable Food
How much do you know about your food? The bagel you ate for breakfast – do you know where the ingredients came from? The coffee that helped you stay awake through your classes today – Who raised the beans? Who roasted them?
Many of us continue through our daily routine without stopping to ask questions about the items we’re putting into our bodies. We may look at the nutritional facts or the ingredient lists, but how did these items actually make it to our plate? What chemicals and additives don’t show up on the label? How has this item affected other communities?
A mentor of mine once told me that the field of sustainability is about making the invisible visible. Until we understand the commodity networks that create the world we live in, the individuals and communities producing our food, extracting our natural resources, manufacturing our goods… they remain invisible and ultimately exploited.
Many institutions across the U.S., Indiana University included, are trying to make our invisible food system visible. Since the Fall 2013 semester, a group of students has been researching every food item purchased by IU and investigating the origins, labor practices, and agricultural methods associated with each product. Each item is assessed using the following four criteria of sustainable food.
Fair – Farm laborers receive a living wage and have equitable working conditions
Ecologically sound – Agricultural methods do not pollute our air or waterways
Local and community based – Food is produced and processed within 250 miles at independently or cooperatively-owned facilities
Humane – Animals are provided the resources needed to carry out their natural behaviors
As you can imagine, this is a large, daunting task, yet extremely important. The goal is not only to discover where our food is coming from, but to get better information from our vendors, and to find ways to procure more sustainable food. Only then can we really secure our food system into the future.
This semester, students are receiving course credit for completing our first campus-wide audit. In the years to come, we’ll need to keep reassessing our food purchases and keep increasing our percentage of sustainable food. If you are interested in joining us in this project, contact the IU Office of Sustainability for more information.