Menus of Change is a set of principles that integrates nutrition and environmental science to develop recommendations that help food service and culinary professionals achieve optimal nutrition, environmental stewardship and resilience, and social responsibility within the food service industry. The vision is to guide food and food service professionals, like Holy Cross’ Dining Services, in creating meals that are not only delicious, but also nutritious and healthy, environmentally sustainable as well as socially responsible and ethical.
In June, the culinary team in Dining Services worked with Leslie Cerier, “The Organic Gourmet”, to develop new plant-based recipes for the upcoming semester. This four-day workshop, full of discussions and cooking demonstrations, explored sea vegetables, teff, and tempeh. Recipes included everything from miso based sauces and teff based croutons.
What’s the story behind your cup of coffee? Like most commodities produced in a globalized world, the answer to this question isn’t simple.
For many of us, coffee is a fundamental ingredient in our lives. It is responsible for our productivity, millions of jobs globally, billions of dollars in capital, and has kindled a complex global infrastructure to keep a steady stream of caffeine pouring into the world’s developed nations. While coffee-drinkers may trust the cute, green “fair-trade” labels on their coffee cups, the real story of coffee—and the people who are trying to change it for the better—is completely hidden from consumers. For years, the coffee industry has been in crisis mode as millions of farmers struggle to make subsistence income and climate change hampers production, while the developed world turns a blind-eye. The real story of coffee is about, “disempowerment, abuse, and rigged markets.”
Dean Cycon, the founder of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, is a person committed to fundamental change in the coffee industry. A self-proclaimed “seeker of knowledge, truth, and wisdom,” Dean is a pioneer in sustainable development who sees business as an opportunity to “seek a better understanding of the dynamics of everything from racism, to ecological justice, to interpersonal and intercultural dynamics.” After a career in indigenous rights and environmental law, Dean began the first international non-profit in coffee called Coffee Kids before creating Dean’s Beans in 1993. And since its inception, his company has been an experiment to determine whether a business that puts human values before corporate values can be successful—and it has.
Dean understands the coffee industry like no other. In his 30 year-long career, he has witnessed the evolution of coffee production from every angle and has developed a clear understanding of how the current system is failing its millions of farmers. Last year, Enveritas, a sustainability non-profit, determined that 71% of the world’s coffee farmers live in extreme poverty. Like us, the quality of life for a farmer is largely dependent on income, environmental conditions, and accessibility to basic social systems such as literacy and health programs. But two important factors are trapping coffee farmers in poverty: pricing and climate.
The income of a farmer is determined by what he is paid for a pound of coffee that he produces. Theoretically, when the coffee yields are lower, the price paid for coffee should increase because of scarcity in the market and vice-versa. This is called supply and demand, but it is not the way the coffee industry operates. The price of coffee, instead, is determined by the “C-price,” a speculative value determined by the London and New York boards of trade. In this model, private investment groups arbitrarily bet on the future price of coffee, which causes volatility in the income for a farmer. Farmers may produce the same bag of coffee every day, but still experience radical income fluctuations because of individuals sitting in a board room thousands of miles away.
The coffee crisis is also an environmental crisis. Scientists predict that up to 60% of coffee-producing land will be completely unusable by 2060. Predicted increases in climate may additionally account for the loss of 72% of tree biodiversity in coffee growing regions in the future. Most importantly, coffee is now becoming increasingly at-risk for fungal disease such as Coffee Rust, which drastically reduces yields and income for farmers. In fact, coffee growing regions will bear most of the burden of food and water insecurity into the future. And this doesn’t account for the self-imposed loss of biodiversity accounted for by monoculture and pesticide use.
The coffee industry is in crisis and millions of households are at risk. In a conversation with Dean Cycon, we discuss the deeply rooted problems in the industry and open the door to discussion about the hidden world of coffee.
Alfonsi, W. M. V., Koga-Vicente, A., Pinto, H. S., Alfonsi, E. L., Sr., Coltri, P. P., Zullo, J., Jr., Patricio, F. R., Avila, A. M. H. D., & Gonçalves, R. R. D. V. (2016). Climate change impacts on coffee rust disease. AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts, 51.
During my time at Holy Cross, I have never seen nor heard students talking about where the food in Kimball originates while waiting in line for food. Rather, overwhelmed with various studies and focused on getting our degrees, I tend to hear my classmates chatter about upcoming work or events. Moreover, I have observed that my generation often forgets to consciously take efforts to live sustainably. As shown in this current semester, Holy Cross Dining Services had to recall the reusable containers because over 1,200 were lost (assumed to have been thrown away). Despite this unfortunate incident that could indicate that the student body is indifferent to the efforts taken by Dining to make Kimball more sustainable, I am confident that every student at Holy Cross has a general knowledge about environmental problems. For instance, my class of 2023 read The Uninhabitable Earth before entering our freshman year, which explored various environmental issues. However, I believe that the problem in making our campus more sustainable arises from a discrepancy between the knowledge the student body has about the environment and a misconception of how their individual actions ultimately affect sustainability on campus.
As a current sophomore at Holy Cross who is interested in environmental studies, I have been exploring our local food system and ways to better integrate our school into it. During my internship with the Office of Sustainability, I have observed many of my student peers lack knowledge about the effect of their actions on our food system. However, I believe that promoting more awareness of the origins of food would encourage my peers to take action. While working with the Office of Sustainability, I have focused my efforts on bringing awareness to local food at Kimball. I aim to show my fellow classmates that the food we eat impacts the local food system.
Dining Services sources at least 20% of its food and beverage products from local sources. Yet, do students think about the food they eat, where it comes from, how it was made, or how it even got to Holy Cross? I do not blame students for this oversight, but rather see this as an opportunity to expand conversations around food sourcing. I am blessed to live in a time of convenience where I can avoid thinking about sourcing, but this luxury does not come unscathed. The increased carbon footprint that comes with the transportation of food itself, being one major negative consequence of sourcing food from distant areas. For example, Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews (2008) estimate that roughly 11% of food’s lifecycle carbon emissions comes from its transportation. Recognizing the negative environmental impact of food transportation, I have begun collaborating with Dining Services to expand awareness around local sourcing at Holy Cross. Did you know that we buy from the Worcester Food Hub and had community members involved in its formation? Buying from this local source reduces the amount of mileage that our food travels from the farm to our plates, consequently reducing Holy Cross’s carbon footprint.
There are so many more ways in which Holy Cross as an institution can become more sustainable, and it is these small steps that eventually add up and lead to a wave of change. With my work, I hope to inspire a change in my fellow classmates to understand their individual effects on the environment and to act in ways that are more sustainable. A simple first step you can take is to make efforts to consume locally sourced food. Whether on or off campus, I challenge you to find out where your ingredients come from. If you are on campus, Dining can share this information to help guide your efforts. If you are at home, you can quickly check the produce label at grocery stores. After all, our generation is the future, and we will have to find a way to adapt to modernization in a way that simultaneously protects the quickly changing environment, and eating local food is one easy way to help.