Strides for equity and sustainability are impeded by UC Berkeley-PepsiCo partnership

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Since 2011, UC Berkeley has been actively endorsing one of the top consumer plastic polluters on the planet and the poster child for big food monopolies: PepsiCo. PepsiCo is an extensive contributor to the climate crisis, marine plastic pollution, labor exploitation, rainforest deforestation and malnutrition. Under our current pouring rights contract, 85% of all food and beverages in campus dining areas and vending machines must be owned by PepsiCo.

How is this possible? PepsiCo owns everything from Gatorade to Cheetos, Doritos to Sabra hummus, Quaker Oats to Lay’s, KeVita kombucha to Tostitos tortilla chips and nearly everything else you see at The Golden Bear café or the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union vending machines. With sugar and palm oil as major ingredients, PepsiCo compounds existing food insecurity by negatively affecting marginalized students who are unable to afford or access healthier alternatives. Our partnership is a direct barrier to accessible nutrition and demonstrates what seems like apathy for the health of underrepresented communities.

This apathy seems to be apparent in the corporate relations of PepsiCo, which has long partnered with Indofood palm oil plantations. Indofood utilizes child labor and exposes workers to harmful pesticides that are illegal in the United States. It was not until PepsiCo was exposed for links to such abuses that it cut ties with Indofood in July 2019. The irony that our university proclaims social justice and equity is inescapable.

Beyond rescinding campus claims of social justice, the PepsiCo partnership nullifies every single one of UC Berkeley’s sustainability goals. PepsiCo has contributed to the deforestation of more than 25,000 acres of Indonesian rainforest for palm oil and is a giant fossil fuel and plastic polluter in the world, at 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and 2.3 million metric tons of plastic per year. There is hypocrisy in our claims for campus sustainability; we pledge zero waste by 2020 and carbon neutrality by 2025 and yet endorse a monopoly of environmental injustice. As a representative of ASUC Senator Sylvia Targ’s Office of Unsustainable Partnerships, we refuse to accept any claims of progress so long as our administration maintains this partnership.

The only barrier to breaking our contract is a lack of administrative will. Viable alternatives exist and have been enthusiastically proposed by the Coalition for Healthy Campus Food and Beverages. In the fall semester, this group of graduate and undergraduate students crafted proposals for locally sourced, equitable food and beverages with benefits that outweigh costs by $356,070,000 per year. This is due to the remarkable societal or global costs of damages related to human and ecosystem health. For instance, the United States pays $384 billion per year for health care related to diabetes and obesity, which are both perpetuated by PepsiCo’s products. The corporation also has an annual societal cost of $275 million from carbon dioxide pollution and $75.9 billion per year from plastic pollution. Only the ignorance of these massive, long-term costs of corporate irresponsibilities can fuel the argument that our contract saves us money as an institution. It does not, and it will not.

The PepsiCo contract expires in July 2021, and administrative conversations regarding whether or not to renew it are well on their way. This fall, our administration is voting on whether or not to renew the PepsiCo pouring rights contract. In other words, we have until then to raise as much noise as is necessary to ensure it is not renewed. San Francisco State University successfully transitioned from its pouring rights contract in 2015, and there is nothing inhibiting us from doing the same. UC Berkeley has the opportunity to uphold its values of health, equity and sustainability; now is the time to make these values clear by not renewing this contract. Join the Pour Out Pepsi campaign to activate the movement. Sign our petition to demand this contract’s termination and share, follow and message us on Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on ways to get involved.

Mia Silverberg is a senior at UC Berkeley, majoring in molecular environmental biology. Selena Melgoza is a junior studying society and environment. Mia and Selena co-lead the department of unsustainable partnerships under ASUC Senator Sylvia Targ.