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How to Eat Better for the Environment in the Dining Hall


College is a time to open our eyes to how amazing the world is and how many opportunities there are out there. But college is also a time when we find our voices and realize just how to use them for positive changes. One way to use your voice to keep our great big world so amazing is to simply eat better for the environment in the dining hall and demand for your dining hall to make positive change to help the world, too. We’ve teamed up with the Humane Society to teach you how you can eat better for the environment in the dining hall.

Participate in Meatless Mondays

Many dining halls across the country have implemented Meatless Mondays or Lean & Green Days. For those dining halls that haven’t adopted this change, many students are making these choices on their own.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American replaced one meal of chicken with vegetables instead, the carbon emissions savings would equal that of removing half a million cars off of US roads.

“Our team of chefs and food policy professionals are working with food service directors and chefs at colleges and universities across the country by offering free, hands-on culinary trainings, teaching dining teams how to make easy, healthy, sustainable plant-based foods so that busy and hard-working students can choose sustainable food options that are also delicious,” says Kate Watts, Food Policy Coordinator with The Humane Society.

Steer clear of beef

Did you know that one pound of wheat or vegetables takes 25 gallons of water to produce? And one pound of soy takes 250 gallons? And did you know that one single pound of beef takes nearly 2,600 gallons of water to produce?

“Research suggests that eating less animal meat and more plant-based protein is the best way to protect the environment,” says Ken Botts, a Food Policy Manager with The Humane Society. “Animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gases then all the cars, trains, plans and other transportation combined.”

Eat more fruits and veggies

Eating more plant-based meals is the best way to be more sustainable. Growing and transporting plant-based foods to consumers uses less water, energy and fuel and is overall better for the environment than animal based meals.

Producing plants is far less wasteful and damaging to the environment. Plus, your health will thank you for consuming more plants.

“This certainly qualifies as an outside-the-box consideration for sustainability when you think about chronic, preventable diseases like heart disease, type two diabetes, and come cancer and the resources and energy it takes to treat these,” Watts says.

This notion is supported by health organizations across the country, including the US Dietary Guidelines Committee, who says, “A dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet.”

Push for positive change

All of that being said, student demand is the greatest agent for change. When it comes to menu options and dining operations, chefs and their culinary teams genuinely want to create food that students want to eat and tend to go to every length to accommodate them.

Watts points out that if students want their dining halls to promote more sustainable food choices, they should let their voices be heard and get to know their dining services team and offer to work with them to implement the kind of change they want. The culinary teams behind the scenes work tirelessly and often go completely unrecognized. Getting involved and offering to help with ideas, research and providing feedback to further their success will go a long way.

“One of the reasons that our Meatless Monday initiative is so successful is because we make it easy for the team in the kitchen: we provide all the resources for free, from recipes to hands-on culinary trainings, and our help never costs a dime,” Watts says. “We do the legwork for the incredible dining teams who already have so much on their plates (pun intended), and we consider every college dining team our partner in helping to create a more sustainable world. When students approach the teams in their dining halls in a similar way, they’ll surely see success in their efforts.”

Eating sustainably is good for your health and for the world, and choosing a diet that can make a positive impact is one of the most tangible ways to make a difference. It has never been easier to be an environmental advocate, and when it comes with a health benefit, that’s a win-win! With more and more students demanding progressive change, it’s easy to see why so many colleges and universities across the country are implementing initiatives like Meatless Mondays. The Humane Society is thrilled to aid every student and dining hall pushing for this kind of positive change.

The Humane Society of the United States has a great resource library of recipes. They also provide free culinary training for institutions looking to add more plant-based items to their offerings. Email Ken Botts at kbotts@humanesociety.org for more information.

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