A Recipe for Sustainability: Serving Plant-Based Food to Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions at U.S. Colleges and Universities Open Access

Goldman, Isaac (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9593tv94k?locale=en


The livestock sector is a significant contributor to climate change, representing about 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE).[1] Production of beef and lamb create about 250 times more emissions per gram of protein than legumes.[2] But, converting millions of people from eating meat to legumes and other climate-friendly foods is not realistic in the immediate future because 92% of people in the United States currently consume a diet that includes animal protein.[3] However, younger generations in the US are more interested in plant-based eating: 60% of college students want to reduce their meat intake and 79% of Gen Z’ers would go meatless one to two times a week.[4] The time is right for universities to play a role in offering more foods with lower amounts of GHGE. This thesis compares food sustainability initiatives at universities across the country to identify best practices to provide and promote plant-based food with a low GHGE footprint. The second part of this thesis is a calculation of the greenhouse gas emissions required to produce the food currently served in Emory’s main dining hall. This quantitative modeling demonstrates how serving plant-based options would be the most effective way to decrease food-related GHGE. I then propose a number of actionable steps to help Emory and other universities decrease their food-related GHGE.

[1] Pierre J. Gerber et al., Tackling Climate Change through Livestock: A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2013): 15.

[2] David Tilman and Michael Clark, “Global Diets Link Environmental Sustainability and Human Health,” Nature 515, no. 7528 (2014): 518, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13959.

[3] Jeff Jones and Lydia Saad, “Americans Who Are Vegetarians or Vegans (Trends)” (Washington, DC: Gallup, Inc., July 1, 2018): 2, https://news.gallup.com/poll/238346/americans-vegetarians-vegans-trends.aspx?g_source=link_newsv9&g_campaign=item_238328&g_medium=copy.

[4] Aramark, “Aramark Brings Gen Z Food Trends to Life with New Back-to-School Offerings on College Campuses Nationwide,” August 9, 2018, https://www.aramark.com/about-us/news/aramark-general/back-to-school-2018. Aramark conducted this third party study in February 2018 of a random sample of 5,272 Americans, ages 18-60, to examine consumer attitudes toward plant-forward eating. “Gen Zers” or those in Generation Z are those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

Table of Contents

Terminology 1

Abbreviations 2

Prologue 2

Introduction 4

The Environmental Footprint of Different Diets 8

Popularity of Various Diets in the United States 9

Chapter 1: The Health Benefits of Consuming a Mainly Plant-Based Diet 10

1.1 Reducing Consumption of Meat and Animal-Based Foods 10

Chapter 2: The Environmental Sustainability of Meat-Based vs. Plant-Based Foods 11

2.1 Deforestation 11

2.2 Quantifying the GHGE of Different Types of Food Using Life-Cycle Analysis 13

2.3 The Environmental Effects from the Life-Cycles of Meat and Animal-Based Foods 15

Chapter 3: Sustainable Food at Emory 17

3.1 History of Sustainable Food at Emory 17

3.2 Emory’s Definition of “Local” and “Sustainable” Food 21

Chapter 4: Examining Food Sustainability from a Drawdown Perspective 24

4.1 The Difference between A Plant-Based Diet Approach to Sustainability and Emory’s Approach to Food Sustainability 24

4.2 Food Sustainability Defined by Food Type, not by Food Miles 25

4.3 The Misalignment between Emory’s Food Sustainability Goals and Emory’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal 26

Chapter 5: Comparing GHG Emissions from Emory’s Local Meat and Dairy Ordering vs. Emory’s Plant-Based Orders during the 2018-2019 School Year in the DUCling 28

5.1 Quantifying the GHGE from the DUCling’s Food Purchases 28

5.2 Emory’s Ordering of Dairy Milk vs. Plant-based Milk 28

5.3 Emory’s Ordering of Beef vs. Beyond Burgers, Tofu, and Black Beans 30

5.4 The Distribution Between the DUCling’s Ordering of Meat and Animal-Based Foods vs. Plant-Based Foods 33

Chapter 6: Implementing a Plant-Forward Dining Approach at U.S. Colleges and Universities 35

6.1 “Menus of Change” Plant-Forward Dining Strategies 35

6.2 Harvard University: The Blend 37

6.3 University of California Riverside: Global Cuisine 38

6.4 Boston College: Develop new Plant-Based Protein Menu Items 40

Chapter 7: Utilizing Strategic Language and Formatting on Dining Hall Menus and Dining Hall Food Stations to Increase Plant-Based Foods Consumption 41

7.1 Indulgent Descriptions of Plant-Based Foods on Dining Hall Menus 41

7.2 Dining Hall Menu Formatting 42

7.3 Using Inclusive Naming of Food Stations in Dining Halls 44

7.4 Case Study: University of California Riverside’s Food Station Names 45

Chapter 8: Programmatic Recommendations for Emory Dining Facilities to Decrease Food-Related GHGE and Achieve the Cool Food Pledge 47

8.1 Pledging to Achieve the “Cool Food Pledge” 47

8.2 Implementing Menu and Dining Hall Food Station Innovations 48

8.3 Implementing the “Blended Burger” 49

8.4 Developing More Plant-Protein Menu Items 51

Chapter 9: Limitations to My Strategies to Increase Consumption of Plant-Based Food and to Achieve the Cool Food Pledge 53

9.1 Applying the Rational Choice Model and The “Utilitarian Trade-off Condition” to “Sustainable Food” 53

9.2 Motives and Deterrents to Buying “Organic” Sustainable Food 54

9.3 Consumer Behavior Regarding Plant-Based Diets and Consumption of Plant-Based Foods 56

Chapter 10: Utilizing Marketing as a Strategy to Increase Consumption of Plant-Based Foods 59

10.1 The Importance of Marketing Plant-Based Foods 59

10.2 Case Study: The Launch of The Beyond Burger at Yale University 60

10.3 Case Study: The Opening of “Decadence” Gelato Restaurant at Stanford University 62

10.4 Sampling as an Effective Marketing Strategy 63

Conclusion 64

Epilogue 66

Bibliography 70

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