Getting Civil About Sustainable Eats, Starting With California

As a proud UC Berkeley graduate, I am honored to explore the entire University of California system’s sustainable food efforts for my first piece at Civil Eats. California represents one of the strongest economies in the world, much less the United States, to which it provides billions in food and revenue. Greening these influential universities will upgrade our state’s profile and power, especially if we can reach full sustainability in the short term, which is no easy feat.

Building a Sustainable Food System, One Campus at a Time

Since 2009, the powerhouse University of California system, whose 10 campuses contribute over $46 billion to the state’s economy, has included sustainable foodservice guidelines to its expansive Policy on Sustainable Practices. According to the recently released Annual Report on Sustainable Practices, its modest but necessary goal to purchase 20 percent of the U.C. system’s food from sustainable sources by 2020 has pretty much already been achieved four years early—with some caveats.

The residential dining programs reached 22 percent last year, followed by the U.C. system’s five medical centers with 20 percent, and its retail food operations with 18 percent. All told, U.C. spent $30.3 million on sustainable food last year.

Although the U.C. system is making clear progress toward sourcing local, organic, and otherwise sustainable food, it’s still a ways from full sustainability over the long term. Last year’s spending on sustainable food was a small, but not-insignificant, decrease from 2015, owing in part to California’s long drought and the fact that supplies of food that meets U.C.’s sustainability criteria can’t often meet demand. If an institution with the desire, demand, and demographics to prioritize local and sustainable food is only incrementally improving—20 percent sustainable is still 80 percent unsustainable—what will it take for others to get there?

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