Tufts Food Awareness Project

A program initiated, developed, and run by Tufts students, to educate the university community about environmentally and socially responsible food choices.

  SHORTCUT   Sustaining the Planet
     KEYS:   Locally Grown Foods

             Organically Grown Foods
             Integrated Pest Management
             Vegetarian Foods
             How Can My Eating Habits Help the  Environment?
             Where Can I Get Sustainably Grown Foods

             What is the Tufts Food Awareness Project
             For More Information about TFAP
             Links to Other Web Sites

The connections between food, agriculture, and the environment are poorly understood and rarely discussed outside of professional circles. We don't often consider the impact of our food production system on the environment. Yet the way we get food from farm to plate has a significant impact on the environment, contributing to global warming, air and water pollution, soil erosion, and human health problems.

+ Sustaining the Planet

Modern food production practices, which rely heavily on mechanization and technology, synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and high-yielding varieties of plants, are very efficient, providing an abundance of cheap food. This "green revolution" has helped to provide affordable food to millions of people around the world, and has allowed our food costs to remain low over time. However, some of these methods are also harmful to the environment and human health. They damage soil, water, and air quality, and have been linked to destruction of tropical forests and loss of biodiversity.

The good news is that positive, efficient alternatives to these destructive methods do exist - including foods that are grown and eaten locally, organically grown foods, crops grown with Integrated Pest Management, and vegetarian foods.

+ Locally Grown Foods

Most of us don't stop to think about where our food comes from, but how far food travels to reach you has a significant impact on the environment. Cheap gasoline has allowed food to come from all over the world -- kiwis from New Zealand, fast-food hamburgers from Argentina, bananas from Costa Rica. In fact, the average mouthful of food in the United States travels 1300 miles before it is finally eaten!

Locally produced foods are better for the environment in several ways:
o Transporting food a few miles instead of thousands reduces fossil fuel emissions that contribute to air pollution, acid rain, and global warming.
o Local growers often use fewer pesticides than large commercial farms. This avoids polluting water supplies, is healthier for the environment, and reduces human health risks.

Locally grown foods have other advantages as well:
o Because it is often eaten sooner after harvesting, local produce often does not need added wax, other preservatives, or chemical ripening agents.
o Locally grown food is fresher and often tastes better, because it doesn't have to travel for days or weeks to reach your plate.
o A healthy local food system -- including small family farms -- helps create a thriving local economy. Buying produce locally helps these farms survive.
o Small local farms preserve precious open space and connect urbanites with the real sources of our food.

+ Organically Grown Foods

Large commercial farming systems depend heavily on the use of synthetic chemicals, which often expose farm workers and their families to high levels of pesticides. The World Health Organization estimates that one million people are poisoned by pesticides each year, with 20,000 deaths. Also, some environmental and consumer advocates believe that pesticide residues on food and in water supplies can have negative health impacts.

Many farmers use growing methods that are safer for the environment and human health. Organic farming works to maintain healthy soils, clean water, healthy foods, and a thriving ecosystem. No synthetic pesticides or other synthetic chemicals are used in organically grown foods. In Massachusetts, a farm must be free of synthetic pesticides for three years before it can be certified as "organic"

+ Integrated Pest Management

An increasingly popular alternative to conventional farming is a system called Integrated Pest Management. IPM relies on natural pest controls, and reduces the use of pesticides whenever possible. Because it is environmentally responsible and can reduce production costs, farmer acceptance of IPM is growing rapidly. In Massachusetts, IPM standards exist for several crops -- including apples, strawberries, and sweet corn.

+ Vegetarian Foods

By now, most of us know that consumption of saturated (usually animal) fat is associated with heart disease, some cancers, and other health disorders. But other problems linked to our dependence on meat are less well know -- for instance:

o It takes an average of around seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, pork, or poultry, as well as huge amounts of land, water, energy, and chemical inputs. Producing the beef in just one cow can use over a hundred thousand gallons of water!
o Meat production is also linked to significant water pollution, the degradation of natural areas such as forests and paries, and global warming.
o Some developing nations use up much of their limited land and resources to produce cattle for export to wealthier countries.
Eating vegetarian products that are "lower on the food chain" have a number of advantages:

o They reduce our intake of saturated fats and cholesterol, and can increase our intake of fiber.
o By reducing demand for animal products, plant-based foods reduce the attractiveness of overexploiting limited resources, converting rainforest to pasture, and intensive animal farming.
o All in all, replacing some or all of our consumption of animal foods with plant-based foods helps to promote a healthier environment, human health, humane treatment of animals, and social justice.

+ How Can My Eating Habits Help the Environment?

There are lots of ways you can contribute to a healthier environment. You don't have to be a vegetarian!

o By more locally grown foods -- the closer to home they are grown the better. Choose foods grown nearby in season over those that come from far away.
o Have a veggie rollup, or yogurt and fruit and a bagel, or pita and hummus, instead of a meat based meal.
o Look for produce grown with Integrated Pest Management. Keep in mind that local fruits and vegetables are often grown using IPM.
o But organically grown produce when available.
o Eat fewer fast food burgers and chicken.
o Find out where your food comes from and how it is produced. If the labels don't tell you, ask!
o Encourage establishments where you eat and purchase food to carry more sustainable food choices.
o Express your opinions about the campus food selections to student representatives, to Tufts Dining Services management, to the university administration, or to the Tufts Food Awareness Project.

+ Where Can I Get Sustainably Grown Foods?

Food co-operatives, natural food stores, farm stands, and farmers' markets are all good sources of organically grown foods, locally grown produce, and vegetarian products. Commercial supermarkets are also beginning to stock more of these products in response to increased consumer demand.

You can even get some of these foods on campus. Pound and Dewick/MacPhie Dining Halls carry a good variety of vegetarian foods. The Campus Center Commons features a salad bar, several vegetarian selections, local juices, carried locally grown apples in fall 1994 and is considering providing more plant-based options, depending on demand.

The more people demand these foods, the more likely it is that eventually the supply will increase and the prices will drop.

+ What is the Tufts Food Awareness Project?

We're a partnership of graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and faculty that was created to educate the university community about environmentally and socially responsible food choices, and to help increase the availability of these foods on campus.

In 1994, several Tufts University students from the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and the School of Nutrition worked with Dining Services on a class project related to improving the supply of local foods at Tufts dining facilities. Because the project raised a number of exciting possibilities for the university, students continued working on this project after the semester ended, and established TFAP in Spring 1994.

+ For More Information about TFAP

Write to:
Tufts Food Awareness Project
c/o Tufts University Dining Services
89-91 Curtis Street
Medford, MA 02155
or send e-mail to:
malterma@tufts.edu (who is this?)
Sponsored By Tufts Dining Services

+ Other Web Sites

Visit ECO links for related sites on agriculture, energy, and other environmental issues with a Tufts perspective.
TFAP Home Page < jcoate@tufts.edu>