Sustainability is good news for students, farmers and communities

In “YSFP expansions stretch budget,” (11/14), Jerry Guo reveals the Provost’s Office’s distressing attitude towards the Yale Sustainable Food Project. The article quotes Provost Andrew Hamilton: “Given the expected pressures on next year’s budget, we do not anticipate any further expansion in the immediate future.” Certainly, Yale’s budget has its constraints, but limiting the growth of the YSFP would be a grave mistake for the University.

Funds are not the issue. The University can fund any project it deems necessary to maintain its integrity as an institution. The YSFP, moreover, is not as constraining as some think. Guo’s article states that the Berkeley College dining hall only spends $1 extra per meal to serve delicious, healthy, sustainable food. Given that dinner at Berkeley costs $12.99 anyway, the extra $1 is only an 8 percent increase.

Of course, we cannot claim a complete understanding of Yale’s budget. We can, however, insist that Yale rethink its decision about the YSFP. Yale cannot entertain the idea of sustainability and then toss it aside. The YSFP must be a top priority.

Sustainability is the issue. It does not just determine the state of our world’s future — it is our world’s future. And if we do not improve our current agricultural practices, it is a grim future. Our fruits and vegetables come from giant agribusinesses that spray pesticides, use genetically modified crops and rapidly deplete the viability of the land by employing easy, cheap and amoral farming methods. Our meats, poultry and dairy come from livestock that are immobilized in warehouses and forced to eat the remains of their dead companions. Our food is then shipped back and forth across the country, consuming vast amounts of oil, to the supermarkets and dining halls where we buy them.

Small farmers have no place in this industry. Agribusiness profits a tiny number of corporations, while the individual farmer is forced off his land. Small farmers don’t go into agriculture for the money — they go into it for the food, the land or the lifestyle. If we lose these farmers, we lose the only people who care about what we’re eating, as opposed to how much we’re paying. We also lose the food traditions these local industries uphold.

The food we eat today is a far cry from the food that once sustained us. Agribusiness chooses crops not for taste or nutritional benefit, but for uniformity in appearance and durability in being shipped across the country. In a nation with serious food-related health problems — such as obesity, diabetes, food-borne illnesses and so on — we can no longer ignore the source and character of our food. We must dedicate ourselves to eating food that is grown or raised sustainably — that means local, as well as organic — or else suffer the consequences, many of which we’re already suffering. Sustainability is not just about sustaining the environment. It is also about sustaining ourselves.

Sustainability, moreover, is not only a moral issue. Food is not only sustenance. When it’s done well — as in Berkeley College, for example — food is a pleasure. Not just a sensual pleasure, either, but a communal pleasure. Food is what brings us together, as humans, at the dinner table. With a full belly and a mind at ease, life once again seems easy, manageable and enjoyable. Think of the holidays, our favorite times of the year: Nearly all of them center on food, enjoyed communally. Hence food is essential not only to our survival, but to our happiness.

As a leading university and a socially conscious member of the world community, Yale is duty-bound to support a program as essential as the YSFP. This reasoning would be motivation enough to expand the program, but on top of that, the YSFP is hugely popular among students. In his article, Guo cites a Dining Services survey in which more than 75 percent of students who responded requested more sustainable food in the dining halls. In fact, Guo’s article is consistently positive about the YSFP, save the comments of the Provost’s Office and of a single dissenting student.

The YSFP, with consistent and generous support from the administration, has already accomplished a great deal. The program is a draw to current and prospective students and faculty. Yale is a leader in the movement to bring sustainability to universities, as well as a model for other schools. How can we stop now?

The YSFP is not a luxury. It is a necessity. If Yale does not set the standard for sustainability in its food policies, agribusiness will continue to wreak havoc on our environment, our economy, our local farmers, our health and our dinner table. We must change the state of food in our nation, and quickly. Yale must continue to expand the YSFP.



Gordon Jenkins is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Kevin Roe is a senior in Saybrook College. Jenkins has interned for the Yale Sustainable Food Project.

Comments