Food Choices Survey and Cool Food Pledge

By: Elizabeth O’Donnell

During my week with Sustainability at the University of Maryland, I was able to gain insight on a great program that is being implemented in dining facilities across the entire campus. This program is known as The Cool Food Pledge. University of Maryland was the first university to adopt this program. The Cool Food Pledge started in 2015 with a goal to reduce 25 percent of emissions from greenhouse gases globally by 2030. Besides the University of Maryland, other institutions that have adopted The Cool Food Pledge include Panera Bread, Ikea, Hackensack Meridian Health, and PepsiCo. To qualify as a cool food meal, an individual’s breakfast should not exceed 20 percent of the recommended daily carbon footprint. A lunch or dinner should not exceed 30 percent. Many meals that meet  The Cool Food Pledge parameters are plant based. This is due to the fact that the meat processing industry contributes significantly to producing greenhouse gas emissions and raising carbon footprint numbers. Food waste is a leading factor contributing to the release of greenhouse gas emissions that are linked with climate change.

 One evening during dinner service at South Campus Dining Hall, I was able to help table a survey about food choices to any individual with a meal plan. There was an incentive to receive a prize of candy, a reusable produce bag, or reusable silverware upon completion. The survey written by graduate students and staff from Dining Services, started off asking about basic information, such as which dining hall the individual was attending, if they were a student, faculty, or staff, their age, gender, where they were living, the meals they typically eat in the dining halls, and the type of dining plan they had. The next question was very intriguing to me as it touched on the influences to their food choices in the dining hall. Personally, I will choose food based on my hunger level and what I am in the mood for. If I previously tried a food from the dining hall that I enjoyed, I would sometimes choose that food again. However, I do enjoy branching out and trying new foods, too. Many students dine with their friends in the dining halls. The following question regarding the importance of sharing asked if an individual’s food choices would be influenced by how easy it is to share the food. This is probably a question that I would not have thought of. Other questions in the survey touched on how important or not important it was to have meals that were seasonal, local, organic, environmentally friendly and sustainable, and minimized food waste. Overall, I believe this was the most fun and interactive way we could have involved individuals on the dining plan at the University of Maryland to provide helpful feedback. The participants also learned more about the basics of The Cool Food Pledge which is a significant part of the food and meals produced for this campus. Responses to the survey showed that many students did not previously know much about The Cool Food Pledge. So, by interacting with the students, I not only helped get information for Dining Services, but I also shared information with the students. Hopefully my time with the students sparked an interest in The Cool Food Pledge for them and ways they can make food choices that are sustainable for the environment. 

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