Food culture and ‘food justice’ hot topic at Ole Miss

By Grace Sullivan

Students at the University of Mississippi are looking to start a conversation about food.

As a part of the national program “Food Day,” Ole Miss hosted its own Food Day events Oct. 16 to feed a growing conversation about food on campus: what’s in it and where does it come from?

To kick off the series of Food Day events, several campus organizations joined efforts to host a screening of the documentary Fed Up, a critique of nearly everything Americans have been told about diet and exercise, on Oct. 8.

Alex Borst, an officer in both Real Food Rebels and Students for a Green Campus, two of the organizations hosting the screening, believed the event went better than expected.

“We had at least 70 or 80 people there at Overby, which means we got at least half the house filled, and you know, that was really good because we weren’t expecting that many people,” Borst said.

Beyond turn out, effects of the documentary may have been eye-opening for some attendees.

“Throughout the movie, there were lots of gasps and stuff; people were saying, ‘Oh wow that’s crazy,’” Borst said.

Freshman Pete Dawkins attended the documentary screening at the request of a friend, but was quickly drawn into the conversation.

“It shocked me that so much of what we eat is controlled by the interests of big business,” Dawkins said. “It made me feel like I don’t have much control over what I eat.”

“Just every little thing that the documentary mentioned, a lot of people didn’t realize, and it just made them think about what they’re eating.”

Getting people to think about what they’re eating is what Food Day at Ole Miss is all about. The main events, set to take place on Oct. 16, include a mini farmer’s market in the Union Plaza from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a panel discussion, including student representatives from Real Food Rebels, the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, Good Food for Oxford Schools, and the Office of Sustainability at 5:30 p.m. in the Overby Center.

As one of the event’s promoters and organizers, Borst is most excited about the student panel discussion.

“It’s going to be a conversation about food where people can candidly talk and ask questions about what is and isn’t considered sustainable, the definition of local, and other things like that, that people don’t always understand,” Borst said.

As for the greater conversation at the university, Borst believes that Food Day will be a spark to get people thinking about an issue that has been his passion since high school. The food issue, he explains, is a multifaceted one.

“I’ve always been interested in policy and politics, so one of the things that’s been interesting is when you look at the whole healthcare thing, there’s all these questions about how much money we’re going to spend and why we’re expanding programs, but the big question we don’t answer is about preventative health,” Borst said.

For him, the root of the health care issue is not in doctors or policy but in food.

“If you’re not eating well, if you’re not exercising, if you’re not looking at your sugar and fat intake and the kind of artificial foods you’re putting into your body, those diseases are the after effect but food is the base,” Borst said.

While Borst’s passions lie in preventative health, many other voices in the food conversation are advocates for “food justice,” a term used by the national Food Day organization to express an effort to make healthful foods widely available to those of all socioeconomic statuses.

For Dawkins, changing food culture is about being able to fuel his body so he can do the thing he loves: cycling.

“I like to ride bikes, and as a part of being a good cyclist you need a balanced diet,” Dawkins said. “But when healthy options aren’t available to you it’s kind of hard.”

At Ole Miss, the Real Food Rebels are making efforts to make those healthy options widespread across campus. The group plans to measure the health and sustainability of the food available to students by working with the organization Real Food Challenge to record data about food purchasing.

For the average student though, Borst offers advice for eating just a little better on campus.

“If you have the ability to cook even just a couple times a week that’s good, and at the same time, just make sure you get a lot of color into how you’re eating,” Borst said, noting that the orange chicken at Panda Express does not count.

His other advice included cutting out unnecessary sauces and choosing water as your primary drink.

“That’s a big thing that people don’t think about, the fat content and the oil in all these sauces that they eat,” Borst said. “And honestly, don’t drink sodas because they’re not good for you; I’m not going to sugar coat it.”


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