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Stanford dining halls should add greenhouse gas indicator, and students should be more educated eaters

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I go to Sweetgreen a lot. Like, literally the only gifts I ever ask for are Sweetgreen gift cards, a lot. I used to create my own salad, until I started ordering with the Sweetgreen app and realized how many calories I was consuming — a meager 380! My beloved twelve-dollar salad put me in the mood to snack; and, now I realized why. So, I started adding a few more things — got my salad up to 540 calories — and suddenly, I had a meal, not a snack, a satisfied belly and maybe I paid one or two dollars more.

Sweetgreen’s posted calories changed my behavior, and other published calorie counts have, too (I usually order the item with fewer calories, though Sweetgreen is an exception). The greater American public even seems to agree. Because right now, our world is all about transparency.

And, since I go to Stanford University, where “greenhouse gas emissions” is a hot buzzword, and talking about climate change is sexy, I wish that making educated decisions based on my environmental impact was easier.

I learned recently that it can be.

I live in a dorm, so my meals are split between dining halls and restaurants, which play a large role in our American food system — a system that is responsible for between 19-29 percent of worldwide carbon emissions.

I’m not going to stop eating in restaurants — I’m busy, I’m distracted, I’m impatient. But, I’m a conscientious consumer, and I’m also wildly optimistic, and I imagine that, in a world where snappy, social trends drive consumer behavior, my peers and I would so much rather eat at a restaurant that’s good for us, and for the future.

For that to happen, we need two things:

First, Stanford should follow Princeton’s lead, which tested the use of colored apples as a greenhouse gas (GHG) grading scale in its dining halls: green for foods with low emissions (fruits, vegetables, legumes, chicken, fish and grains, mostly purchased from local vendors), yellow for medium (dishes with cheese, tofu, turkey and pork, mostly processed and produced, transported, packed and cooked) and red for high (dishes with beef and lamb).

Princeton’s model has made things easy; instead of complicating our lives with scrambled numbers, the university has educated eaters with symbols that are effective enough to spark some shifts in ordering toward mindful eating that gives the environment a little love. Like calories at Sweetgreen, more information about GHG emissions on menus would make us all more conscious eaters. Plus, in a communal eating setting, friends encourage friends to make better decisions. This would also work at large companies. And, in a dream world, someday in restaurants, too.

Second, we need to learn! Shifting toward more environmentally-conscious eating habits starts with you, with me, with our friends, with our families, and with our communities. As consumers, we are the biggest drivers for change, and our first step is getting educated.

If you’re bored when you should be working on homework, sacrifice a few scrolls on Instagram to research the GHG of the food you’re eating. Or, R&DE, can you please add educating our community about the greenhouse gas emissions of our foods to your Education & Awareness plan? I bet that once we learn about what it took to make what we’re eating, we’ll all make some changes.

And, please! For my birthday this year, I’d love a Sweetgreen gift card. Or, a Winter Maple Squash Salad, with no apples, goat cheese subbed for the parmesan, light dressing and no bread (no one said ordering mindfully has to be boring).

— Mitzi Harris ’20

Contact Mitzi Harris at msharris ‘at’ stanford.edu.