Monday, May 2, 2016

Meetless Monday: Beef and Deforestation

       There are many reasons not to eat meat, including health, ethics, and cost, but there is another equally important reason that many may not know about. Deforestation for cattle ranching is that reason. Cattle ranching for beef production is the second largest driver of deforestation in the world after agricultural expansion. In the Amazon alone, 75% of deforestation has been directly linked to cattle ranching. But why beef? Beef is now the second most consumed meet in the United States, after recently being overtaken by chicken in the last few years. The U.S. also consumes almost twice as much beef as any other country in world! Our American obsession with burgers and steak is now not only affecting our health, but is also compromising global biodiversity and the rain forests that are the "lungs of the world."

       Rain forests play a vital part in the global climate by being a carbon sink and serves as a climate stabilizer. Trees preform the important job of respiration, in which they adsorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen; cleaning the air in the process. Rain forests are also home to over half of the world's animal species and at least 2/3 of plant species. When deforestation occurs, these plant and animal species are often lost, which can lead to total collapses of ecosystems and complete extinctions of species. They areas are also a huge source for many modern pharmaceuticals and play an important role in the discovery and creating of new drugs that may save lives. Medical purposes are not the only reason that rain forests are important to people. There any numerous indigenous tribes that make their home in rain forests and have relied on the plant and animal species there for hundreds of years in order to survive.  

       Every year, approximately 2.71 million hectares of rain forest are cut down for beef production alone, not to mention the immense area that is also removed for cattle that are used for leather and other products. There are many programs that have been created to solve these problems, such as the UN REDD+ program, but with the vast area that global rain forests cover, they are very hard to enforce. Some suggest privatizing rain forests or using new satellite monitoring technology to help locate illegal deforestation and farming, but these can be exclusionary and expensive. One thing that can be done is for consumers like us to send signals to producers that these products are not desirable. If there is no market for these products then production will inevitably decrease. So what can you do? To start, you can cut out meat and especially beef from your diet, as well as reducing your consumption of  leather and other cattle products. However, soy is also one of the leading causes of deforestation, so if you are looking for other sources of non-animal protein, make sure it is locally sourced. Just remember that sustainability is the name of the game and consider the affects that your action might have on the environment.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Aquaponics and Hydroponics

       As demand for food continues to increase, worldwide reliance on industrial agriculture will rise as well. With this change comes not only a number of environmental hazards, such as loss of biodiversity, erosion, water contamination, and increased chemical use, but also a change in human- plant relationships. Many farmers today spend little time in physical contact with their crops and ensuring the health of their soils, as they tend their plants atop tractors that do everything from seeding to harvesting. We as humans are slowly, but surely, becoming detached from our food. It is hard to break free of this system however, because there are few options that can be employed that would be able to keep up with global food demand. In doing so, our environment and health suffers, and we rarely think about where our food actually comes from.

       There are a couple of ways that this can be avoided and they are both being practiced right here at Ithaca College. The first is hydroponics. Hydroponics addresses some of the biggest problems with agriculture today. Soil degradation and inefficient water use are the plague of industrial agriculture, but both can be avoided with this alternative food production system. Hydroponics grows plants on a growing medium that is not soil. This medium could be anything from coconut fiber to gravel, and leaves the roots of the plants directly suspended in the water below. The water is kept at a constant pH, temperature, and contains all the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain the plants and can very easily be done organically. This results are faster growth, greater yields, and healthier plants, all without having to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. This type of system also gives farmers intimate interactions with their plants and reignites the human-plant relationship that has gone to the wayside with modern agriculture. The only downside to hydroponics is that it requires a considerable amount of energy to heat and light the buildings. However, this can easily be mitigated by employing alternative energy on site to produce all the needed electricity.  

       Aquaponics is the other way to sustainably produce food on a large scale. Similar to hydroponics, this type of system solves many of the environmental issues of industrial farmings. Aquaponics works by creating a symbiotic environment between plants and fish. Instead of having to add nutrients to water or a growing medium, the fish provide the nutrients by creating excrement that is taken up by the plants and used as fertilizer. The plants then filter the water, which is returned to the fish tanks, creating a closed system that requires minimal additional water input. The only other additives are fish food and pH balancers if necessary. The fish can also be harvested when they get too big or are nearing the end of their life, which again assures that a minimal amount of waste is produced. Aquaponics also requires close care by farmers as they must monitor and tend their plants frequently and have a specialized knowledge of their plants' growth patterns and health.  

       Both Hydroponic and Aquaponic systems are beings used at Ithaca College and can be seen in action in Terrace Dining Hall. These systems can also be done at home, so if your not an expert gardener or just want a way to produce healthy food for yourself year round, then look into one of these alternative forms of agriculture and become more sustainable today!


Monday, April 18, 2016

WasteLESS Week Kickoff

       Today marks the first day of WasteLESS Week at IC! In conjunction with Earth Day this coming Friday, Ithaca Dining Services is hosting a week of events to promote sustainability and environmental awareness. Come to our events in Terrace Dining Hall Wednesday through Friday nights to learn about sustainable food systems and the importance of reducing waste. Also make sure to make an iCommit pledge by vowing to take action to become more sustainable, and enter for your chance to win a fitbit!
       Tuesday is our Choose to Reuse Giveaway. This event will take place at all Grab-and-Go locations across campus in Dillingham, the Library, and Terrace Dining Hall, from 11:30-1:30pm. Come to any of these locations to get your Grab-and-Go meal and receive a free reusable tote, lunch bag, or water bottle. By using reusable items we can eliminate unneeded waste from landfills and save thousands of trees that make our bags and conserve the oil that makes disposable plastic bottles.         Come to Terrace Dining Hall Wednesday during dinner hours from 5-7pm for our Aquaponic and Hydroponic Expo and Info night. Meet the team of Environmental Studies and Science students who created and maintain the system. Learn about the logistics of the systems, how they can are sustainable alternative to conventional agriculture, and how they are incorporated into the dishes we serve on campus. Wednesday is also the first night of our iCommit campaign, so keep on eye out for our table where you can pledge to be more sustainable and enter our raffle.
        Thursday is the second occurrence of our now biannual event, Taste It, Don't Waste It! Taking place in Terrace DH from 5-7pm, come learn about food waste in the United States and do your part by using our sample cups to try our different foods before you take a plateful to prevent from wasting food you don't like. IC's food salvage club SWIFT will also be there to raise awareness about food waste and you can even join their movement to make a bigger impact on campus and in the community.       

       Friday is our big Weigh the Waste event in Terrace DH from 5-7pm! This is the big event of the semester and your chance to prove how sustainable and aware our student body is. Make sure you eat everything on your plate because we will be weighing the excess food waste to compare our waste per person to the national average. Let's try to beat last semester's total of 3 oz per person, which is almost half the national average! REMP will also be tabling to inform students about the issues of waste and how we can work to reduce it. This is also your last night to take the iCommit pledge and enter in our fitbit raffle, so don't miss it.
        Please make sure to come to some or all of our events to see what it's all about and learn what Ithaca Dining Service is doing to help IC be more sustainable and how you can do your part!