The average CC student tends to carry around a reusable water bottle, often blanketed with stickers advertising clothing brands, names of national parks, and a common phrase which reads “No Farms No Food,” a mantra promoting local sustainable agriculture. As I sat in Rastall, I saw students prideful of their perceived sustainability awareness, as well as physical fitness and personal health, sucking down French fries, pepperoni pizza, cheesecake, and even Pepsi. I wondered why CC students choose to eat foods that are terrible for their health, strengthen our society’s industrialized global food system, plunder and contaminate the environment, and contribute to domestic and global hunger. This cause is the reason why small farmers in Colorado Springs and around the world are becoming defunct, unable to compete with the prices and consumer convenience that comes along with the dominance of big-agriculture and food processing corporations such as Pepsi, Nestle, Kraft, and Coke.
At Bon Appétit’s Chas Coffee Cart, nestled in the bridge of the Tutt library, I watched student after student buy food and beverages in hopes of livening their tired, studying bodies. While observing this aromatic section of the library, with the pungent odor of ground coffee beans and baked goods in the air, I was reminded of a lesson I learned from a children’s book I enjoyed when I was four years old. “If you give a moose a muffin, he’ll want some jam to go with it. When he’s eaten all your muffins, he’ll want to go to the store to get some more muffin mix.” I asked Steve, the single employee at Chas, what his best selling item was. Without hesitation, he replied, “Lately, the best selling food item have been the muffins.” Of course, I thought to myself with irony, I should have known!
Not surprisingly, Chas is not the only location on campus where students can satisfy their muffin cravings, which brought me to Rastall. Out of Bon Appetit’s six food locations on campus, Rastall receives the most customers, offers the most diversity of food, and is a central meeting place for the student body.
I attended a lecture during Block 2 about the importance of implementing sustainability on college campuses. The speaker, Mitch Thomashow, focused on the fact that colleges are institutions of influence and must practice educated and sustainable decision-making. The lecture was catered, not with fresh local organic chopped vegetable, fruits, and sauces, but with cheesy and meat-topped pizza. What if students and faculty thought about whether the grain to make the pizza crust was grown on a small Colorado farm, or on an industrial farm in Iowa using pesticides and herbicides? Or if the milk to make the cheese on the pizza came from a cow squeezed between metal boards with tubes and vacuums clamped to its infected udders? If all the pizza eaters in that lecture thought for a moment about the source of the ingredients, it would be ridiculous to eat and support the food on the basis of the detrimental environmental impact resulting from the production of delivery pizza. Nevertheless, the pizza was a huge hit, creating an incentive for the planners of future events to continue catering the same way.
I sat down next to a sophomore cross-country athlete in Rastall, and asked him to describe what he was eating. “I’m having pizza, some turkey, a random assortment of vegetables, fried peppers, pork soup, and I’m drinking Powerade and chocolate milk.” He also mentioned that this was a very typical meal for him. While this assortment of foods may seem generic for a young endurance athlete, the knowledge I have gained through my Certification in Plant-Based Nutrition and years of research gives me confidence to label this meal as a plate of almost entirely junk.
Fried cheese, salty boiled pig, oily pizza, and a cooked slaughtered bird do not promote personal health, but actually aggressively feed potential long-term chronic disease. The diseases most people in our society associate with inevitable old age—like cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s—have been proven to simply be the effects of a lifetime of poor nutritional choices consisting of processed foods and animal products, which have been highly normalized in the United States.
“Do you usually each junk food?” I asked the student, specifically referring to candy and sodas. “Yes. I’ve always eaten junk food,” he said, “but it’s definitely more prevalent in college, because of the availability and lifestyle here.” Just then, a significant part of my overarching question was answered. Most students do not eat based on their intuition, sustainability awareness, or personal beliefs. Rather, people’s food choices are often dictated by convenience and immediate availability, which can be dangerous when unhealthy food is prevalent.
This information led me to the other significant half of the CC food system—not the consumer, but the producer. I organized a meeting with the CC Bon Appétit Director of Operations, Randy Kruse. We discussed the basic question of how Bon Appétit chooses what foods are sold on campus.
“We bring in the products that the student population wants. If you don’t like Doritos, what do you want us to bring in? You find that sweet spot of what their taste buds are longing for and you bring those products in,” said Kruse. The basic premise that enables Bon Appétit to sell Coke, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and Doritos in Local Goods, Red Bull in the library, and chocolate milk in Rastall, is the fact that there is a demand for them. While Bon Appétit aims at sourcing as much local food as possible, the high consumer demand for mainstream food products forces the school to provide them.
The contradiction and main issue in this consumer-producer relationship is that if you asked the average CC student if they support big agriculture, genetically modified foods, and industrial junk food processing corporations, the likely answer is ‘absolutely not.’ On the other hand, Bon Appétit has the data to show that students don’t practice what they preach.
While analyzing my interviews, I remembered Newton’s law of motion, which states that an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. When a student sees a box of Cheez-Its sitting on the shelf in Local Goods, and is persuaded to buy it, Bon Appétit takes into account that this transaction was made, providing data for them to know which products to continue stocking on the shelves. At the same time, most CC students claim that they only indulge in such unhealthy food choices because they cannot resist buying these products when they are so conveniently available. There is a never-ending cycle at play here, and this cycle will remain in motion unless an outside force is exerted. That outside force capable of breaking the chain of supporting environmentally destructive food corporations is not in the power or interests of Bon Appétit. The power instead resides with the environmentally educated student body—the consumers—to simply stop eating these foods.
Confirmed by Mr. Kruse, if the student body at CC decided to protest a food item, Coke for instance, simply by not filling up their cups or buying liter bottles in Local Goods or The Preserve, in a matter of a week or two, Coke would no longer be sold on campus, which would be a significant step in increasing campus sustainability.
But ask a Coke drinker, Gatorade drinker, or casual Snickers eater if they could commit to no longer buying and eating these delicious products, and disturbingly, most people would admit that they are not willing to make such commitment. Not being able to act on behalf of educated and factual information, in the instance that consuming animal products and highly processed foods are harmful to one’s health and the environment, is the sign of an unhealthy addiction.
Steve at the Chas Coffee Cart told me that for some regulars he “starts making their drinks before they’re even up at the counter.”
“Could you call that an addiction?” I asked.
Steve paused, gazed forward to think about his answer, and just as one of his regulars strolled up for their ten o’clock caramel latte and muffin, he replied, “Yeah, I guess you could call it an addiction.”
Food and agriculture impact the environment and the health of the population more than any sector on the planet. Purchasing, supporting, and indulging in unhealthy and environmentally harmful food products is not something that can be justified simply due to availability and normalization. Throughout history, activities like smoking on airplanes and even designating separate water fountains for different races were both considered normal, not that these practices were necessarily appropriate or right. Through community responsibility and active protest, these flaws in society become resolved, and more peaceful and healthy alternatives are adopted. We must do the same regarding the destructive aspects of the food system here at CC, and the only way to make it happen is to take the matter into your own hands and always vote with your forks for a healthy body and a healthy planet.
Jackson Foster, Guest Writer