6 steps to eating more sustainably this fall

The challenges of student life. 

College can be fun - a time to push yourself to learn new things and to make lifelong friends. Of course, college can also be a very stressful time. When I am stressed and sleep-deprived, the most pressing things on my clouded mind are coffee, nap time and finishing that paper. Sleep deprivation definitely lowers my impulse control, which makes it harder to resist the nightly urge to buy unhealthy snacks or expensive, packaged convenience foods that can leave me and my wallet feeling drained.

So what does this have to do with where our food comes from?

Student life has challenges that can make it difficult to support issues that we care about, such as: eating healthfully, minimizing waste, sticking to a budget, or supporting local, organic and sustainable food. When we discuss the sustainability of food, this means we are considering the economic, social and environmental impacts of the food we eat. Many students at IU care about where their coffee, bagels and salad come from. But it can be hard to stop and consider the impacts of our daily purchases when we feel foggy and preoccupied.

If you take a psychology course, you will probably hear about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943). It explains this tendency to meet basic physiological needs for sleep and food before we attend to needs higher on the pyramid. At the very top, self-actualization describes the desire to fulfill our potential, perhaps by giving back and engaging in issues we care about. So how do we push past these challenges and engage in issues we care about?

6 steps to eating more sustainably

1. Sleep 

Sleep = better mood, better memory, better decisions, better you! While I can't emphasize enough how much better life is when I get a solid nine hours of sleep, this is not always possible in college. :) For more helpful suggestions, see #2-6. 

2. Plan ahead

Start the semester stocked up on snacks that you will feel good about eating and enjoy eating! Bring them with you during the day to stave off temptation. If you have a few minutes in the morning and a coffee pot, bring your own coffee to save money. Your heat-safe water bottle can double as a coffee mug, some cafes give discounts for using your own container rather than their single-use cups. I live off-campus and don't have a meal plan, so I pack my lunch the night before because I know I'll be rushing in the morning. I save money avoiding convenience foods and feel better eating home-cooked leftovers. If you eat on-campus, see #3.

3. Look for labels, ask for labels 

Look for Indiana apples, local or organic produce, fair-trade coffee and food made with produce that is grown in the Campus Garden (see video). Based on what I have heard from Residential Programs and Services (RPS) staff and Sodexo staff, they care about the opinions of students and need you to speak up so that the demand for the types of food that you support can be communicated to decision-makers. If you eat on campus, make sure to provide feedback on comment cards about the availability of foods you support. You may also feel that food labeling could be improved to give you the information you need to support local, organic, worker-owned, fair-trade, humanely raised or other foods.

4. Vote with you stomach, dollars and meal points 

At past IU Food Summits, food vendors and food service providers have indicated their readiness to provide more sustainable food. It is up to students to generate and support demand for these foods on campus. 

Students and staff discuss food issues with Sodexo and RPS at a Food Summit.

We all make choices about what to eat every day and we vote with our stomachs and dollars. When you add up those small decisions over an entire year, it affects the purchasing expenditures made by Indiana University. It makes an impact on the choices that are offered by dining services or convenience stores in the future. If students aren't buying grass-fed hamburgers, dining services will be hesitant to provide it again in the future!

If you cook your own meals, visit the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market for fresh, local produce. You can often save money by buying staples such as flour, beans, rice, and pasta in bulk at places such as Blooming Foods or Sahara Mart. Bring your own reusable containers to fill (just ask the staff to weigh and mark the container before you fill it so you can subtract off the weight of your heavy glass jar!)

5. Get Involved 

There are many student organizations and groups that have formed to address food-related issues that students are passionate about. These range from food justice to animal welfare to food production. Get involved early in the year: VegIUHoosier Fair TradeBeekeeping ClubBloomington Community Orchard at IU, Students Producing Organics Under the Sun (SPROUTS), OxfamReal Food IU are just a few options! 

Students across many universities are engaged in the Real Food Challenge. The Real Food Challenge goal is to "shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources - what we call "real food" - by 2020. IU is aiming for 15% of real food as defined by the Real Food Challenge.

Students have many different reasons for supporting real food. Here's a small sampling:

  • Better access to healthy food on campus.
  • Impact of farming practices on local ecosystems.
  • Minimize negative impacts on natural resources.
  • Minimize contributions to climate change.
  • Impact of food on communities, including food security and local jobs.
  • Animals should be treated humanely. 
  • Farm workers should be treated well and paid a fair wage.

Several of these may resonate with you or you may be passionate about other issues. To become involved in the Real Food movement, visit Real Food IU.

6. Sign up for the "this week in sustainability" newsletter!

You'll get updates and event information throughout the semester. Just enter your email address in the bar at the bottom left of any page on the IU Office of Sustainability website. Stay tuned for more information about the fall Food Summit. Be sure to attend the Big Red Eat Green (BREG) event on September 10th at the IU Art Museum. It's a great way to kick off the semester, try some great local food and get plugged-in to food issues on campus!

For sustainability tips on preparing your wardrobe for fall, read Minimalist Closet in College.

About The Author
Leah ThillService Corps Fellow, IUOS intern

During the academic year, Leah works with IU Office of Sustainability as a Service Corps Fellow serving as the Sustainable Purchasing Coordinator. She is a 2nd year Dual Masters Degree Candidate in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, concentrating in Energy and Sustainability. After earning a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Goshen College, she worked for two years as a Project Coordinator and PULSE Fellow with Allegheny CleanWays in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During summer 2015, Leah served as the Renewable Energy intern with the IUOS tracking progress toward IUB's energy goals and researching renewable energy options.