Coming soon to a school near you: UC food initiative

John Morgan/Creative Commons

UC Berkeley is often ahead of the pack to champion innovations that promote sustainability. It now seems that the next opportunity for the university to become involved with progressive change is coming soon. As announced by Alice Waters in UC Berkeley’s Edible Education 101, UC President Janet Napolitano and the chancellors of every UC campus have committed to undertake a plan to better the food systems UC-wide.

Known as the UC Food Initiative, the plan will likely expand research, outreach and curriculum in regard to the food system. Alice Waters is a local restaurant owner and creator of Edible Schoolyard in MLK Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. Waters announced that she had a meeting with Napolitano and the campus chancellors at her restaurant Chez Panisse on Jan. 6. In the class, Waters quoted Napolitano, who said, “I want to integrate … all of the ways that food and agriculture will be taught.”

According to Waters, Napolitano and the chancellors agreed to begin an initiative that would “change the way that we buy food.”

The details of the plan are for the most part unknown, but the Office of the President is expected to make a public announcement about the initiative in the next month or so. We at the Clog have decided to look at Cal’s current commitment to a sustainable food system and compare our school to other UC sustainability champions such as UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis.


UC Santa Barbara

According to UC Santa Barbara’s Residential Dining Services, it serves an all-vegetarian menu on Mondays three times a quarter and ensures half of its produce is local. Amanda Lawson, a student from UCSB, tells us, “I actually went vegetarian for two quarters at college since it was so easy.”

She praises the variety of the dining commons and the transparency of the UCSB sustainability program, which sends out monthly newsletters with updates on its sustainability practices, but says that while most of the dining commons are committed to supplying healthy and tasty food, “Portola dining commons by far had some of the most unappetizing food and limited vegan options. On most days their only vegan option would be rice.”

Ranked as the top agricultural school in the world, UC Davis implements USDA organic and fair-trade certified purchases. Student Jenna Giafaglione said her “dining hall does a sufficient job of accommodating vegans and vegetarians … although these options are not always as appetizing as the nonvegan/vegetarian options.” Giafaglione then expanded on her campus’s outreach efforts, telling us about its Meatless Mondays and information placards about water conservation. Her main critique for the UC Davis dining halls is that they need “improvement in the degree of variety.”

Cal Dining 4But how do those schools compare to Cal? UC Berkeley was recently named among the top 25 universities with the “freshest and healthiest food”. Cal Dining dining halls sponsor 100 percent organic salad bars, composting and make up green-certified buildings. Numerous projects have been undertaken to promote a more sustainable food system like Chews to Reuse, reusable to-go boxes and Thoughtful Thursdays, the promotion of vegetarian options and educational awareness about food waste.

The university itself has sponsored the Eat Well Berkeley program and has welcomed the creation of the Berkeley Food Institute, a coalition made up by the College of Natural Resources, the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate School of Journalism and the School of Public Health. The Berkeley Food Institute has been developing a food systems minor that is expected to be ready in the fall.

Eva Malis, an upcoming sophomore, believes her “vegan needs are met by the dining halls, in that (she) won’t starve, but it is often hard to find nutritious vegan options.” While vegan dishes are offered at UC Berkeley’s dining halls, they became so repetitive that Malis tells us, “There were a few weeks where I felt that there really were not enough options to sustain this diet. I really wish they would make more of an effort to encourage veganism and make it easier for those of us who cannot trust American animal product industries.”

Hopefully, the UC Food Initiative can address these common issues and make sweeping changes toward a more sustainable system in all of the UC campuses while also addressing specific problems that each school faces.

Image Sources: Vinay Shivakumar under Creative Commons, John Morgan under Creative Commons


Contact Lucy Tate at [email protected].