Why College Locavores Aren’t a Dying Breed

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Scrolling through Instagram, there’s a 99 percent chance you’ll see a picture of freshly cut strawberries captioned, “Eating healthy!” with 132 likes. You’ll probably roll your eyes, but you might like it (ironically, of course). Maybe it’ll inspire you to grab a healthy snack on your way to class or jump back on the health craze you started as part of your New Year’s Resolution. But all too often we’re dragged back out of the organic food aisles by our frugalness or our addiction to thin mint Oreos. Sometimes health food is just not realistic for college.

Enter a locavore: the enchanting word you heard about in an Atlantic article and pictured yourself becoming in college, but never had the money to pursue. For the vocab nerds, a locavore is someone who shops locally or eats only locally grown food from farmers markets and small grocery stores to support sustainability and eco-consciousness in the food market. It sounds wonderful for your Pinterest life in theory, but as farmers’ markets are almost nonexistent and extremely pricey in the college scene, we often skip over to chain grocery stores or rely on the dining hall to serve us our local fix.

The detriment to this, of course, is that by purchasing food from chain grocery stores we fund a truck full of gas that traveled 1,500 miles to deliver bananas and oranges. These long distance foods are often full of pesticides.

“I think we’d all like to be locavores, but that’s just not practical here in rural Ohio,” said Lauren Brown, first year Anthropology major at Oberlin. The farmers’ markets in the area are either terribly pricey or simply not reachable in our Blundstone boots.

This begs the question: Can a college student actually be a locavore on a college budget?

“I believe someone on a budget is the perfect fit for becoming a locavore. Paying for nutrients versus just calories is the ultimate score,” said Nicole Cormier, a certified dietitian and owner of Farm Fare Market in Sandwich, Mass. “If you purchase local, healthy foods, your body is more fulfilled and prepared to tackle the day. You are far less likely to want to buy all those excess, junky snacks.”

Although splurging on our own meals in town may be ideal for a senior with an apartment and a working car, the underclassmen are largely still left with their campus meal plan. Fortunately at Oberlin, campus dining services has teamed up with a few local farms in Ohio to serve fresh options like salami, apple cider and corn puffs. But these aren’t choices that can keep us completely sustainable throughout the year.

As part of an assignment for her “Environment and Society” class, first year environmental studies major Julia Ingoglia is trying to find out how we can have a better system of farm-to-table options year-round for students eating in campus dining. “We are close to so many pesticide-free farms; I think it could only be a benefit to have more locavore options in the dining hall,” Ingoglia said.

There’s also a few hidden shortcuts to classifying ourselves as locavores that we may not even realize. A huge part of being a locavore involves sustainability as well as lowering our carbon footprints. Specifically in the dining hall, we often don’t even realize how much food we waste on a day-to-day basis. In a recent study done by Western Michigan University, Exploring Food Waste Reduction in Campus Dining Halls in 2010, Americans generated just under 35 million tons of food waste.

Thankfully, student-run organizations at different colleges, such as Oberlin College’s The Oberlin Food Rescue, deliver excess food from the dining halls and campus ceremonies to community churches, senior centers and food banks. And Oberlin’s Resource Conservation Team (RCT) takes all the compost from the dining halls and dorms and spreads it to various locations across campus like the Johnson House garden.

“My biggest pet peeve is when people take more food than they can eat and just throw it all out. We need to acknowledge how much we get in the dining halls and move it around to people who need it,” Gabriela Goldsmith, Oberlin fourth-year and member of Oberlin Food Rescue said.

On a more national level, a new Boston grocery chain The Daily Table, run by the former president of Trader Joes, Doug Rauch, sells local and organic food at the price of fast food. With the possibility of this brand spreading across the country, hope remains for the accessibility in local market pricing for college students.

But being a locavore doesn’t necessarily pertain to just food. Shopping for gifts and essentials at local stores in town is just as beneficial. Purchasing skincare products, art and organically produced clothing can significantly contribute to the local economy in town. Especially around the holiday season when we’re all looking for last minute gifts, we shouldn’t have to cave to the pricey college gear for the family. Your college town offers so many unique, inexpensive finds that scream “sentimental gift from a low budget college kid” even if you’re joking or not.

Despite the siren call of chain grocery and department stores, anyone can become a locavore, even on a tight budget. It feels so right supporting the local economy and eating fresh food. Even if it’s just making simple local choices in the dining hall or taking less food, we shouldn’t stress about the qualifications of being a locavore, but it should be something we want to aspire to in the future.

Cormier said, “I am passionate about teaching people how to play an active role in improving their whole health by developing new relationships with food. And I believe in the power of connecting farmers and consumers to create a more educated community.”

Liam is a freshman at Oberlin College. He has horrific posture, enjoys the Ratatouille soundtrack and likes his Capri Sun shaken, not stirred. But be warned: the kid has an astrology sixth sense.

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