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UC Santa Barbara Panel Dissects Solutions in Honor of National Food Day

Faculty and staff gather to discuss sustainability and social justice

A growing number of UC Santa Barbara students are taking advantage of resources offering free food to those in need, and a panel of university stakeholders Thursday considered ways to halt the trend — locally and abroad.

In honor of national Food Day, which is Friday, select UCSB faculty and staff gathered in a room in the University Center to discuss food justice and campus efforts to embrace sustainable food and feed the hungry.

The panel culminated a week of events leading up to the day reserved for Americans to consider changing diets and food policies.

“There is a rising need among our students,” said Tuyen Nguyen, director of UCSB’s Associated Students Food Bank. “Some of them could be heads of households.”

The Associate Students Food Bank is feeding more than 1,000 students, she said, noting a large increase over the summer and an overall rise in nontraditional university students.

About 34 percent of households choose between buying food and paying to get to work, and more than 27 percent decide between paying for housing and food, according to statistics presented in a Feeding America video Nguyen showed.

A majority are also buying less healthy food because it’s cheaper, she said, explaining that two UCSB students created the Food Bank more than three years ago to feed struggling students and to teach about available resources.

Less predictable eating habits and schedules contribute to the problem, along with students not knowing how to cook the pantry food once they get it, she said.

“It’s hard for them to plan,” she said. “We can only be successful if we’re decreasing that number.”

When an attendee asked how to donate extra fruit and vegetables from her own trees and garden, Nguyen suggested giving to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

Kristen LaBonte of UCSB’s Greenhouse and Garden Project for staff, faculty and students briefly spoke before environmental studies professor David Cleveland, who wrote a book on the subject of food justice.

He said agriculture businesses contributed the most greenhouse gas emissions — 30 percent.

“That’s the problem, but it also presents the solution,” Cleveland said. “The problem is our food supply. Our diets are unhealthy. Diet has an incredible potential.”

Cleveland’s research showed that eliminating less healthy red and processed meats and certain grains from a person’s diet lowered the rate of illnesses and overall costs to the U.S. healthcare system.

“What’s going to encourage people to do that?” he said. “The trouble is our diets change now based on for-profit corporations.”

History professor Nelson Lichtenstein offered an incremental solution, calling on large grocery chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which serve more organic foods, to let their employees unionize so they can make a fair wage — something he called democracy rather than food justice.

Grocers such as Vons and Albertson’s already allow unions, Lichtenstein added.

“The people involved in them have something to say about them,” he said.

Attendees wondered aloud if employee-owned grocery stores could provide an answer, but Lichtenstein said he’d rather see larger level chains change because they have more stores that impact more economies.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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