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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

SEA hosts annual local food banquet

Published: November 16, 2012
Section: Features

SEA held their annual Organic Foods Banquet on Tuesday. The banquet featured delicious food, inspirational speakers, dedicated students, sterno cans, glue, ribbons, cinnamon, blood, sweat and tears and a lot of fun. The banquet has been known to be a “fully environmental event” and Lisa Purdy ’14 shed some insight into exactly what that meant. “Even I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “fully” environmental—no solar panels are powering the lights in there, we used cars a couple times to pick everything up, and we’ll be breathing out CO2 the whole time.”

Bikes were used in gathering the decorations; some of the decorations came from around campus and others from Waltham. The produce was all local and all organic, which decreases the carbon and environmental impact. The menu for the banquet was entirely vegan, which is a low-impact diet. Purdy explained to The Hoot why a vegan diet is so much less impactful.

“Cows (for meat or for cheese) require immense amounts of water and maintained in a conventional way, will require lots of unhealthy, nutrient-deficient, government-subsidized corn. Conventionally their waste is also, well, wasted; by separating all that rich manure from plant production, we create a festering, methane-producing heap and then require artificial fertilizers on our plants,” Purdy said. “So-called happy cows will also require 2,500 gallons of water per pound (chickens will require 500 gallons) as opposed to 25 gallons for a serving of rice.” Their menu, overall, reflects a holistic approach to eating “real food.”

In putting together an event as involved as the Organic Foods Banquet, Margaret Miller ’14 explained how SEA paid for the banquet.

“Some of the food we cook with has been donated from Waltham Community Fields Farm. The rest comes from the students! SEA applies for Student Union funding every semester. A large chunk of the money we receive is allocated to our Semi-Annual Banquet,” she said.

The event pulls in a large crowd, with the numbers varying around 150. Clara Gray ’15 said, “We usually have to turn people away because it gets overcrowded. Brandeisians like food.”

Purdy said the banquet provides insight on the importance of eating healthy. “There’s some research to suggest that the lack of pesticides allow for more natural interactions between the plants and their pests, increasing trace minerals and nutrients,” she said. The issue of pesticides with food is clear, as Purdy said, “It is either totally deadly or has sublethal effects, depending on what kind of pesticide it is. For instance, the sublethal effects of some pesticides are causing the bees that pollinate them to become so disoriented that they can’t find their way back to the hive and starve.” she said. She also mentioned the health impacts. “You’re ingesting chemicals meant to kill. If that isn’t enough to make you stop and think, then what is?”

Purdy also explained the cost difference between organic food versus foods that may contain pesticides.

“The cost of organic food a) reflects a truer cost of producing food, since they don’t receive subsidies like big agribusinesses do and b) makes complete sense if you consider the fact that we end up (as a country) spending a lot more money on fixing the health issues we develop, when we could have prevented them,” she explained, acknowledging organic food’s high price.

Padriag Murphy ’13 discussed Brandeis’ food choices: “SEA has actually spent a lot of time communicating with Aramark over the past years through the Dining Service Committee, the Real Food Network and many, many emails.”

He details that recently there has been an increase in the amount of organic, vegan and local options at Brandeis, but claims, “It’s still not nearly enough!” He expressed his hopes for the future in that potentially, “Aramark will strive to get as much of their food as possible from local and organic sources—the nutritional differences alone are reason enough.”

The costs being one of the obvious reasons Brandeis does not supply a larger selection of local, organic options, Murphy continued, “Anyone who wants more access to local and organic should consider getting a farm share (CSAs, we promote these every spring) or head down to the Waltham Farmer’s Market, which will start back up in the early spring.”

The food for the banquet is either donated or bought at a discounted price from local farms. Waltham Fields donated butternut squash for the banquet this year and almost all of the banquet’s other products were purchased at a reduced price from Wilson Farm in Lexington, Mass. In terms of cooking the food, SEA usually occupies the Village; the necessity for oven space is key as they cook food for 150 people. Gray recounted a story to The Hoot, “I remember last year spending eight hours in the village kitchens running back and forth between ovens. It’s hectic, but awesome. We play music and eat snacks and have a great time.”