Food for thought

“That was the worst thing ever! BRING BACK MY CEREAL!” is just one example of the angry comment cards hating on 150-Mile Meals that I’ve seen tacked to the wall at Driscoll. Often, there will only be a few negative ones surrounded by mostly supportive feedback, encouraging Driscoll to bring in more local foods (which they have been doing an outstanding job at so far this year, by the way). It’s not so much that these negative reactions are especially hurtful, or that they will stop Dining Services from providing us with more sustainable and healthful food choices. It’s more that they are representative of how polarizing food can be.

The food we grew up eating defines us in a way; it is representative of who our families are and where we come from. Food is, in many ways, a large part of our identity, and so when someone comes in and tells us that what we are eating is fattening, or killing the planet, or greasy, or too white, or too green or just plain wrong, it is understandable that we feel defensive. The way we eat is a direct result of how we were raised, and on an extremely simplistic level, someone hating on our dinner is criticizing how our families brought us up. For this reason, it is extremely important that in changing the way we eat as Williams students, we are respectful of how people like to eat and why. There is no one right way to eat food – I personally believe that the single way to truly eat right is to eat what makes you happy. But there are certain eating habits that are significantly more sustainable, and it just so happens that many of these habits are probably better for our bodies as well.

Meat is a big question for me – I love meat and fully support killing things so that we can eat them, be happy and have protein-filled diets. However, the average hamburger requires about 10,000 gallons of water to get a baby cow to your plate (not including all the fossil fuels required for transportation and processing or the environmental degradation caused by the run-off of the average large-scale beef operation). But if you couldn’t care less about the environment, then how about some simple economics? U.S. taxpayers spend $38 billion every year to subsidize meat and dairy. The average market value of a cow in the north central United States is $245, while the average cost to raise a cow in that region is $498. The current meat system in the United States does not make sense on any level, but no one is going to change this except the consumer.

This brings us around to Meatless Mondays. I think the idea is awesome, in that to make the American food system more sustainable, it is essential that Americans eat less meat. We don’t need to all become tofu-loving vegans, but it would help if we tried to eat in a less meat-centric way. However, I do think the execution does leave a little to be desired. It takes a little more effort to make vegetarian food taste good than to fry up a steak, and often there ends up being a strange hodge-podge of carbs and random vegetables at Driscoll on Mondays instead of nice vegetarian entrees. For Meatless Mondays to live up to its potential, it needs to be accompanied by a meat-eating education campaign – so people know why it’s important – and the food needs to be tastier, so that it’s not so easy to just hate on it.  Because right now, there is a lot of hating that goes on – mostly from athletes concerned with their protein intake (I promise you won’t waste away – you can get protein from many non-animal-derived products), but also from many people who are accustomed to the meat-centric plate and see no reason to change.

Similar sentiments surround 150-Mile Meals. There are a lot of people who love them and understand why they are important, and some that absolutely can’t stand them, and want their Lucky Charms back. Which is understandable. I do love me some Lucky Charms. Maybe it would be a productive compromise if during local meals, the dining halls emphasized that all the food on the line was locally-sourced and thus more sustainable and more vibrant, both flavor-wise and nutritionally (there is a correlation between industrially grown foods and deficient nutrients compared to organically grown on a smaller scale). At the same time, they could leave the soda machines, cereal and sandwich lines open (and not covered by those pesky tablecloths), so that people don’t feel forced into eating local meals.

Williams is such a vibrant and educated community, and there is no reason that we should not be at the forefront of eating responsibly. However, to make changes, it is important that people are given a wide array of options and don’t feel like they are being attacked for the way they like to eat. Hamburgers are delicious. Kale kind of tastes like grass. These things are true. If we could all be a little more open-minded about trying new things, and at least listening to the reasoning behind certain food choices, even if we choose to do otherwise ourselves, it will help Williams move forward in eating and consuming more responsibly, and if we, as the next generation of leaders don’t take this seriously – who will?

Gabby Markel ’17 is from Girdwood. Alaska. She lives in Mark Hopkins.