By Marina Qutab
In November of 2015, Amy’s Kitchen and Turning Green teamed up to devise a strategy for changing food systems in high schools and colleges across the nation. The plan was to provide student environmental leaders with the opportunity to host a “progressive dinner” for their peers on campuses. These dinners, provided by Amy’s Kitchen, would be catalysts for positive change, as students would work together to strategize ways to shift their school food systems from conventional to conscious, all while fostering the growth of food sustainability.
Four months later, Turning Green student leaders across the country have enthusiastically responded to this plan; they are now are in the process of hosting Amy’s Kitchen Progressive Dinners as they share their ideas with the world on social media.
Last week, my dinner for UMass Amherst took place in the comfort of my off-campus apartment. Although I am thrilled to say that my university is very progressive as it places a big emphasis on sustainability, it was a challenge for my friends and me to come up with new ideas. Our school has signed the Real Food Campus commitment, we compost, reduce, reuse, and recycle, and offer a vegetarian station in most dining halls. Dining services only buy sustainable seafood and best of all, we have a permaculture garden where students can grow food that is offered in dining halls. Aiming for zero waste, our school offers compostable to-go containers and utensils in campus cafes. So what can we change?
Julia, a junior at UMass Amherst, shared, “I am vegan, and although there is a vegetarian station, it still is hard to find 100% vegan meals.” All of my friends agreed that offering a vegan bar would be a great way to encourage healthy, environmentally friendly plant based diets. In addition, I received helpful feedback from my peers on an initiative I launched this semester called, “UMass Cleans Green.” This initiative will ensure all of the cleaning products used in the dining halls are organic, environmentally friendly, and heath friendly. My friends liked this idea, and agreed that this is an extremely important issue to address because the FDA does not regulate the term “soap”, allowing toxic chemicals to slip into the cleaning solutions.
Amy’s aims to provide students with the tools (in this case, REAL organic and GMO free meals!) to transform the food systems on their campuses.
As we fueled our bodies with organic, non-GMO, vegan ingredients provided by Amy’s Organics, we brainstormed a school in our area that we could nominate, or “pass the torch” to, and allow them the same inspiring experience on their campus. We nominated Hampshire College, a school nearby who may be the “Greenest College in the World” according to EcoWatch, all thanks to their unique sustainability efforts such as striving for 100 percent renewable energy.
My UMass Amherst peers and I, as well as all Turning Green student leaders who participated in this initiative, feel extremely fortunate to be part of this opportunity sponsored by Turning Green, Amy’s Kitchen and other partners. This surely will not be the only dinner we have together, as our passion for real food and sustainability has grown even stronger through these conversations.
When a group of like-minded students gather around the table to talk sustainability, organic, non-GMO deliciousness, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish!
A very special thanks to: Amy’s Kitchen, Guayaki Yerba Mate, Numi Tea, Klean Kanteen, and Chico Bag for sponsoring these amazing dinners.
Marina is an undergraduate at The University of Massachusetts Amherst pursuing a double major in Communication and Arabic. She is also completing the Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies. Marina grew up in the rural town of Rutland, Massachusetts. From a very young age, she dreamed of using her creativity and passion for the environment to build a conscious, sustainable world. In her free time she enjoys organic vegan cooking, making music, blogging, exploring in nature, volunteering, and learning about world cultures. Marina was Project Green Challenge 2015 2nd Place Winner.