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Food Day Aims for Sustainability at Pomona

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Tracy Yao
Jonas Kwok PO '13 poses at Food Day, promoting consciousness of "real food."

Pomona for Environmental Activism and Responsibility (PEAR) brought National Food Day to campus this week, aiming to show students that there are more considerations when dining than just the choice between soup or salad. 

A series of food awareness activities took place Wednesday evening, followed by a Workers for Justice (WFJ) panel on Thursday. 

“When you’re thinking about peppers, you have to think about pesticide use, how pesticides affect the workers that work with peppers,” said Lena Connor PO ’13, Commissioner for Environmental Affairs on the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Senate. “You have to think about the water that goes into growing red peppers in the Central Valley. You have to think about how far away the source is. You have to think about the petroleum that goes into transporting these peppers.”

The Food Day events at Pomona College were part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about these considerations. 

“For a lot of people, it doesn’t occur to them the impact their food choices have,” said Julia Pitkin PO ’13, a PEAR leader and coordinator of the events. 

The events included a dinner at Frank Dining Hall with food sourced from 11 local farms and a discussion led by local farmer John Adams PO '66.

A screening of the documentary Bidder 70 and a social justice-centered musical performance at Walker Coffeehouse by Skylar Boorman PO '10 and Merritt Graves PO '10 followed the dinner.

The Food Day events were guided by the Real Food Challenge, a national campaign and network of college campuses that sets criteria for sustainable food.

“The idea of Food Day is to bring awareness of what real food is and how we can bring more of it to campuses and communities,” Na’ama Schweitzer PO ’13 said. 

An item classified as "real food" must meet at least two of the standards identified by the Real Food Challenge. These standards include “fair trade, humane, organic, sustainable certified, local and just,” Schweitzer said. 

“Organizers [of the Real Food Challenge] have chosen college campuses as a place to start just because of the buying power of the food programs at colleges,” said Cici Cyr PO ’13, an officer of PEAR. “They can have a huge impact on the food systems of their local communities and communities they extend to.” 

Pomona has an advantage over other colleges in implementing food sourcing changes because it runs its own dining halls, said Samantha Meyer PO '10, Sustainability and Purchasing Coordinator at Pomona. 

“Being self-operated gives us more flexibility to work with small vendors and make changes without a lot of the bureaucracy associated with contract foodservice operations,” Meyer said. 

Pomona’s dining halls have set their own goals for real food through its Sustainability Action Plan. 

“The Sustainability Action Plan calls for 40 percent real food by 2020," Schweitzer said. "That’s our guideline for getting more real food on campus.” 

The dining halls met this requirement last year, well ahead of the 2020 deadline. However, there will be less sustainable food this year. 

“The Board of Trustees and some of the Pomona administration were worried that we were spending too much money on our real food goals, so some of the programs got cut,” Cyr said. “Last year, all of the meat at Pomona was certified humane. This year, the only meats certified humane are the beef burgers and the chicken breasts at the grill, but all the meat on the mainline is not humane anymore.”

Pomona’s dining hall went over budget by $900,000 last year, forcing the college to make several cutbacks this year in dining. 

“Part of the problem is documentation," PEAR officer Paul Koenig PO ’14 said. "It’s not clear how much of the budget deficit was caused by sustainability.”

Nevertheless, Pomona Dining Services has cut back on real food. 

“It’s a lot easier to cut sustainability programs than to rework the structure of the dining halls," Pitkin said. "It’s unfortunate.” 

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