WARNING: This material is archived material and will be out of date. You may wish to return to the CUSU Green website.
Conflicts between convenience and environmentally sound practise are particularly intense in the kitchens. However, people are often more aware of ‘green’ issues surrounding food than in other areas of everyday life, perhaps because of the health implications of pesticide residues and additives in food. Most undergraduates eat in college canteens, which makes them a perfect area for colleges to ‘lead by example’.
state of play
- Only four colleges regularly used organic ingredients. Notable among these were Darwin, where all pulses, pasta and grains used are organic, and Lucy Cavendish, where herbs grown organically on site were used in the kitchens.
- All colleges supplied some sort of vegetarian meal, although in two colleges, this option was not available to all students.
- Most colleges supplied some food in non-reusable packaging. For example, twenty colleges supplied individually wrapped butter and sixteen sold single-serving cereal packets. Other foodstuffs frequently supplied in sachets were ketchups, sauces, jams, sugar, milk, cream, and condiments.
- Only two colleges recycle aluminium foil; six recycle cans; six recycle cardboard boxes. Nearly all recycle glass. Nine colleges send their food wastes for use as pig swill; seven send oil for reprocessing as chicken feed.
There are a lot of issues connected with food that are beyond the scope of this document. We will briefly cover three of the most important.
Organic food is grown without the use of artificial fertilisers or pesticides. It has clear green advantages over conventionally-produced food:
Organic food is available locally from:
- Artificial fertilisers and pesticides require a great deal of energy to make. The extra yields they create largely contribute to food surpluses in Europe, while significant hazards are involved in their production and application. In addition, the side-effects of chemical use have been widely documented since the 1960s. They include both animal mortality and human health hazards, together with serious implications for long-term soil structure and fertility. (see pesticides section of ‘gardens’).
- Actual pesticide residues in food are connected via strong circumstantial evidence with dangers to human health.
- Organic farming excludes practises such as hormone treatment (to improve milk yields) and the feeding of animal carcasses to herbivores (as implicated in BSE).
The Soil Association runs Britain’s organic labelling scheme on a very strict basis.
organic food suppliers
vegetarianism / veganism
shop: 12 Mill Road, Cambridge.
wholesale: Unit 7, Dales Brewery,
Gwydir St, Cambridge.
Arjuna also supply vegetarian wines
Windmill Close,Soham, (Ely)
tel. (01353) 720333
Horse and Gate farm,
tel. (01353) 778723
Karma Farm Organic Produce
Cambridgeshire CB7 5SL
tel. (01638) 780701
The Organic Stall,
Mondays / Wednesdays
organic wines available from:
Oddbins, and other wine merchants.
Many students have opted to become vegetarian or vegan for environmental reasons. Most colleges support them in this by making vegetarian options available every night. A member of the CU Vegetarian society explains why people may become vegetarian:
Many vegetarians choose not to eat meat for reasons other than a moral belief in animal rights. As well as benefiting the livestock who are spared the butcher’s knife, vegetarianism also benefits:1) vegetarians - meat eaters run a higher risk of suffering from illnesses such as bowel cancer and heart disease, and all this from a more expensive diet than a vegetarian one.
2) the global food problem - vegetable matter is much more ‘protein economic’ than meat. To produce one pound of beef, a cow must be fed ten pounds of feed - thus giving a tenth of the return and decreasing the available protein for human consumption. Although it may be argued that even with the present meat consumption there is enough food in the world, but that it is not properly distributed, there are scandalous reports of grain being exported from African countries blighted by famine in order to feed cattle in this country.
3) the environment - the meat industry is responsible for vast expanses of rain forest being cut down in order to create land for grazing cattle. As a result of the climate and soil structure, this land will be barren within a few years. Cows also contribute a substantial proportion of ozone destroying gases, further upsetting the earth’s defence mechanism against harmful UV rays.
Vegetarianism need not be seen as a cranky philosophy for animal equality, but a responsible choice to curtail the far reaching effects our diet can have on ourselves, others and the world.
Other students choose to cut down on meat consumption, without becoming total vegetarians. We therefore think it preferable that college kitchens make vegetarian options available to anyone who wants them, not just ‘registered’ vegetarians.
‘ethical’ food purchase
Some luxury foods are grown in the Third World by people who would normally be putting their land to better use feeding themselves. These issues are partially covered in ‘contexts’.
Some foods are widely regarded as ethically unsound because of the involvement of their producers in unscrupulous overseas activities. In particular, the aggressive and socially irresponsible marketing of baby milk substitutes by Nestle has led to an international boycott. Muller are subject to similar consumer pressure in Germany.
Details of Nestle boycott from:
Baby Milk Action,
23 St. Andrew’s Street, Cambridge CB2 3AX
tel. (01223) 464420
The issue of packaging is covered at some length in the ‘waste’ section of this document. It is a particular problem in kitchens, where packaging is at its most essential for hygiene reasons. However, there are some options for improvement. Aluminium foil can be recycled (see ‘waste’ section), and food made available in bulk rather than in ‘individual’ sachets. Ketchup and jam are served in bowls in some colleges, while mustard, vinegar, sauces salt and pepper are often provided in pots on tables. Some particularly bad examples of overpackaging are:
- individual margarine portions
- processed cheeses
- single serving breakfast cereals
- ‘fruit corner’ style yoghurts.
Other issues which may be addressed in kitchens include the disposal of biodegradable wastes (see ‘wastes’) and the use of environmentally friendly cleaning fluids (see ‘cleaning fluids’). Kitchen knives and scissors made completely from recycled plastics and steel are available from:
The Green Catalogue
Freepost (BS 7348), Axbridge,
Somerset BS26 2BR . tel. (01934) 732469
Bars are not places where environmental considerations are normally paramount. However, they get through a large amount of resources in the packaging and receptacles used.
state of play:
Both Downing and Newnham use re-usable plastic tumblers for over 80% of drinks served in the bar. Most other colleges serve over 65% of drinks in glasses, which probably makes economic as well as environmental good sense given the similar price of the two alternatives. Roughly one fifth of colleges asked said they returned 90% or more of bottles used.
glasses and bottles
Plastic cups are less durable than glasses and are not recyclable when they break. Glass tumblers are therefore preferable on a day to day basis, however, many colleges use plastic tumblers on occasion for safety reasons. In this circumstance, it is difficult to say whether durable or disposable plastic tumblers are more environmentally desirable, since the longer life of durable glasses is offset by the extra resources used in their production. Another good example of good environmental practise in bars is the prioritisation of returnable over non-returnable bottles (ie imported beers).
There is a wide selection of drinks available which have been produced without the use of synthetic chemicals. Can be purchased from Arjuna (see page B16).
Disposable plastic tumblers: 1 pint - £7.25 per 100
Non-disposable plastic tumblers: 1 pint - £ 45.50 per 100
Glasses: 1 pint - £54.60 per 100
53, Pembroke Avenue
Waterbeach, Cambridge CB5 9QP
Fax: 440 496. Tel: (0181) 749 779 / 743 4135
Barmans sell both glasses and plastics
Almost all vending machines in colleges currently use plastic cups which are thrown away after being used only once. This should change in the near future, with a new scheme from Save-A-Cup, a non-profit making company formed by plastic cup manufacturers, vending/food service companies and polymer suppliers. They offer a free collection service, supplying bins and sacs at cost price (currently £29 + VAT). The cups are converted to polystyrene pellets and then re-used to make non-food contact products (e.g.. coat hangers). Save-A-Cup plan to start operating in Cambridge in 1994.
Refrigerated vending machines are another major source of wastage, keeping drinks cool all the time for occasional usage and staying illuminated for 24 hours a day. Drink cans are perhaps the most blatant waste of resources in bars and Combination rooms. At the very least, all cans should be collected for recycling; in some quiet areas it should be possible to replace machines with simple communal tea-making facilities (i.e. kettle).
Pauline Jennings, National Field Sales Manager
Save-a Cup Recycling Company Ltd.
Suite 2, Bridge House
Bridge St., High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP11 2EL
Tel: (01494) 510 167. Fax: (01494) 510 168