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For food choice change, focus on education as opposed to options

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For food choice change, focus on education as opposed to options

Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator

Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator

Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator

Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator

By Julia Aldrich | Columnist

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While recycling and refillable water bottles were once the most popular fad among the environmentally conscious, there is now a more pressing matter for humans to turn their attention to in order to slow global climate change: the animal industry.

When you navigate to Pitt’s website on campus sustainability, you’re given a list of all of the ways the University is making an effort to “go green.” A plan to increase levels of recycling on campus? Great! Printers that reduce paper waste? Fantastic! A garden to collect excess rainwater? Amazing!

Let’s go one step farther.

Given our new administration’s skeptical views about climate change, we should celebrate Pitt for taking steps in the right direction. For the fourth year in a row, Princeton University listed Pitt among 361 other colleges in its “Guide to Green Colleges,” gaining recognition as one of the most environmentally friendly universities in the U.S. and Canada. If we want to make Princeton’s top 50 list in the future, there are ways the University can build on its existent sustainable programming.

If we’re not actively pushing and educating students about the immense ways our food choices impact the environment, then we’re not doing enough to really serve the causes we claim to support. It’s not only about giving students the option to eat less meat but telling them how these choices can influence the future of the environment and create sustainable change.

The question of whether eating meat is bad for the environment is not a question anymore. And the issue isn’t that people are unwilling to try more plant-based foods or unaware of the perils the environment is currently in, but rather, it’s that people aren’t aware of the effects their demand for meat has on the earth.

Lean and Green — a Pitt student initiative that strives to promote sustainability on campus through environmentally friendly and healthy diet choices — conducted a study that showed Pitt students don’t fully understand the impact their eating habits have on the environment.

According to Paige Walter, the group’s media coordinator, the study surveyed 83 students at Market Central and asked them whether saving the animals, protecting the environment or living a healthy lifestyle would be most persuasive reason to go vegetarian. Of those surveyed, 31.3 percent said they would give up meat to live a healthier lifestyle while 28.9 percent said they would to protect the environment. These are hopeful responses but not nearly enough to show that Pitt students recognize or value the key connection between meat eating and the environment.

The livestock industry of chickens, cows and pigs produces more greenhouse gas emissions that all cars and trucks combined, according to Greenpeace. So as we eat more meat, the demand for meat likewise goes up and increases those gases. But when we eat more meat alternatives instead, like nuts or tofu, we can make a big difference in what’s being released into our climate. According to Walter, if a person went vegetarian for a year, they would produce three times less carbon than if they were to purchase a hybrid car.

And interestingly, more than 92 percent of responders said they would like to see more plant-based foods in the dining halls at Pitt. So it’s clear that students are willing to eat less meat and explore more veggie-friendly options. But what’s not clear for students is why these options are imperative for making choices that help our planet.

With Pitt’s student population at about 34,000, the University has the capability to make significant changes for the future of the environment. Give the students want they want — which is more diverse plant-based options — but also tell them why they should want it. Informing students about why these options are environmentally favorable can only inspire students to choose them more often.

Abdou Cole, the resident district manager for Pitt Dining by Sodexo, is part of the team working to create sustainable changes for the University and its students’ dining options. The executive chefs at Market Central are constructing a variety of tasty, plant-based dishes they plan to introduce to the menu next year. And Cole estimated that about 45 percent of diners already eat at least one vegetarian or vegan dish a day, usually because this food is good for their health.

Cole also said he hopes to educate students on how and why to make more ethical food choices by hosting pop-up courses — an idea Pitt should work to implement in as many places on campus as possible.

But in order for students to start eating less meat with the intention of reducing their carbon Posters throughout the dining halls, informational email campaigns, programs in residence halls and even financial incentives for what students spend their money on can help inform students and shape their knowledge and decision making. A program similar to AlcoholEdu that makes first-year students more aware of how they can make sustainable food choices would have a large impact on the University.

In conjunction with offering more vegetarian options, letting non-vegetarian students know about the sustainable benefits that come from choosing these foods can encourage them to eat them more often.

The animal industry is only going to keep growing if people keep eating meat. If Pitt wants to have an impact and keep up its reputation as an environmentally conscious university, it should ensure its students know how they can do their part to help out the earth.

Julia primarily writes about politics and social issues for The Pitt News.

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For food choice change, focus on education as opposed to options