Berkeley organizations strive toward food sustainability

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Elise Ulwelling/Staff

For the groups paving the path to a more sustainable food future in Berkeley, food sustainability is about more than just being ecologically friendly — it means ensuring food access and affordability, and the reform of food distribution structures.

Berkeley is home to a host of restaurants and associations dedicated to promoting sustainable food practices, a movement notably championed by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Various campus organizations, including Cal Dining, the Berkeley Food Institute, the Student Organic Garden Association and the Berkeley Student Food Collective, have all been working toward individual goals to create a sustainable future for the campus.

“When you talk about food sustainability … What does food sustainability mean? It’s such a broad term. It’s huge,” said Edmond Allmond, the communications manager at the Berkeley Food Institute.

For the Berkeley Food Institute, sustainability includes not only how food is grown but also the systems that produce and distribute it.

Berkeley Food Institute is an organization on campus that actively works toward creating more sustainable food systems by using donations to support individuals’ research geared toward creating a sustainable future.

According to Allmond, the institute supports various forms of research that study food systems. In 2016, the institute funded the seed grant for an initiative to improve the Oakland Unified School District lunch program and create a more nutritious menu for students.

“Oakland Unified School District has been an example of how to improve menus for children,” Allmond said. “We were able to … bring the resources forwards that were blended to allow these researchers to present some really robust work to Oakland.”

The Institute’s work also encompasses raising awareness about the CalFresh program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to students on campus.

For members of the Berkeley Student Food Collective, a nonprofit, volunteer-run grocery store, food sustainability is “intricately tied with food access.”

“When you look at the numbers, four out of every 10 UC students is someone who has had food insecurity at their time at Berkeley,” said Jeff Noven, executive director of the Berkeley Student Food Collective. He added that the food collective has goals to “make an impact at that middle stage of food insecurity... (for) folks that … couldn’t spend that eight to 10 dollars to go out and eat on Telegraph for every meal.”

In order to combat food insecurity and promote food sustainability on campus, the food collective fosters programs such as its community kitchen program, according to Tamara Sharf, the strategic partnerships coordinator at the Berkeley Student Food Collective. The program involves volunteers taking food that isn’t aesthetically pleasing and making meals out of it, for which students can then pay however much they are able.

In addition to addressing food insecurity, Cal Dining has set another ambitious goal — to reach zero waste by 2020. To attempt to reach this goal, Cal Dining is currently taking part in various forms of waste reduction, including a compost project and the Chews to Reuse program, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff.

Students can purchase reusable to-go containers from dining halls under the Chews to Reuse program, while in the food donation program, the association partners with Copia to donate overproduced food to students and community members in need.

“Sustainability is never and will never be about just simply sourcing foods that are ‘better for the environment,’ ” Noven said. “There needs to be ways in which that food can be broadly available to the people that need it.”

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.