UC San Diego claims it’s sustainable. But is it? When we think of what causes climate change, we might think of energy use, burning too many fossil fuels, or using too much plastic. Indeed, these factors contribute greatly to climate change and are commonly acknowledged on campus. Overall, UCSD has made a great effort to widely promote sustainability. But the university overlooks a bigger contributor to climate change: food.
According to the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, food production accounts for approximately 30 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases, which is a higher percentage than what any single sector of pollution contributes.
Food has long been a major contributor to climate change. As the human population increased, we accounted for food availability by unsustainably using more chemicals, water, and land for agriculture. As American consumers, our diets began to incorporate more meat.
As a result, society has increased the production of livestock. Unfortunately, in most situations, the production of livestock produces more greenhouse gases than plant-based food production does. Additionally, about one third of the total food produced has been going to waste. These unsustainable actions have added up and significantly changed the climate. Presently, we have altered about 40 percent of the planet’s land for agriculture, which drastically changed 70 percent of grasslands, 25 percent of tropical forests, and many other forms of natural terrain. With the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, it is predicted that sea levels will rise, the average temperature will increase by 3°F to 12°F by the end of the century, and there will be new threats to our health such as extreme weather, degradation of air quality, and threats to food safety and nutrition.
If we continue to make the same decisions with food, it may become difficult to address food availability and mitigate climate change. According to Jonathan Foley, a world-renowned scientist and Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, we need to double or even triple our food availability by 2050 all while sustaining the planet. Hunger may be an issue today, but if we don’t make our food production and consumption more sustainable, a larger proportion of the future population may go hungry and the planet might fail to sustain us.
UCSD often encourages shopping at the farmer’s market, contributing to campus gardens, or using reusable dining ware to increase food sustainability. While this may seem like a great start to making food more sustainable, we must do more if we want to make a real impact.
As a campus, we have done little to combat these historical issues pertaining to food sustainability. We contribute to the problem by doing little to prevent the largest contributors to climate change: wasting food and consuming a lot of meat. We can change that by first making a few small changes to how we consume food daily. Perhaps instead of eating tri-tip from 64 Degrees or a steak burrito from Rubio’s, eat a salad or something with less meat. We don’t need to become vegetarian, but we need to cut down on meat intake, especially red meat, which is especially detrimental to the environment, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of space allocated for farms.
Additionally, take only what you can eat at the dining hall or eat your food before it expires to prevent food waste, so we don’t need to produce as much food. Give food you can’t finish to a friend or donate it to the Triton Food Pantry to feed those who can’t get enough food today. Encourage your friends to think more sustainably about food. By doing these small things, we can make a big impact. If everyone in the world stopped wasting food and significantly cut their meat intake, we could produce enough food to sustain our population with only about one third of our current agricultural land and greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
You can also get involved with UCSD’s sustainable communities. Talk to the Associated Students council members or Housing Dining Hospitality (HDH) representatives to raise awareness about UCSD’s need for more sustainable food practices. If you want to do more outside of campus, you can actively engage in legislation to mandate more sustainable food production, or vote for sustainable food policies. Maybe we can even focus more of our scientific efforts toward creating technology to make food production more sustainable by increasing food yield with less land.
We have a chance to do things differently by incorporating the choices we make regarding our food into our view of climate change. Achieving true sustainability relies not just on a portion of the population; it relies on everyone taking some sort of action. You don’t have to do all these things today, but increased food sustainability throughout UCSD and beyond starts with little changes to our food habits.
Eric Perez is a student at UCSD. The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.