A toast to USC’s efforts

There’s certainly no shortage of ways to pitch in when it comes to environmentalism. We’ve all heard the drill: recycle, turn the lights off, get a hybrid, get a Nalgene, and take shorter  showers. And as a freshman living in a dorm without air conditioning, I can think to myself, “Hey, at least we’re saving energy this way.” (Though admittedly, that doesn’t work now that Los Angeles has finally climbed out of its rainy winter.)

Betsy Avila | Daily Trojan

Whether or not you believe in global warming, most agree that the planet could use a hand. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed that, while USC is in so many ways the “college of the 21st century,” we sadly fall short in our attempts to be eco-friendly.

UCLA, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley all rank in Grist.org’s Top 20 Green Colleges, while USC was no where to be found. Most grating of all, USC received a C+ grade in 2009’s College Sustainability Report Card, finishing behind UCLA, which boasts not only a comprehensive recycling program but solar-heated water for four residence halls. So if we’re looking for more motivation to decrease our negative impact on the environment, we should probably factor in our pride.

We are trying to lighten the abuse our daily activities inflict on the planet. USC CalPIRG and the new USC Green Office Certification Program are doing their best to draw USC into the ranks of the environmentally friendly universities, many of which are in California (though Colorado University at Boulder is predictably No. 1). The Green Office Certification Program ranks faculty offices in terms of sustainability and makes suggestions for improvement. Additionally, the long-anticipated Ronald Tutor Campus Center will also be the first USC building to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified.

But there is one aspect of campus with extensive efforts toward sustainability that has not been so well publicized: food.

USC Hospitality has implemented a number of initiatives, most of them within the residential dining, to downsize our proverbial footprint.

The two main dining halls both incorporate grease recycling, which eliminates waste and provides up to 50,000 pounds of bio-fuel each year. All paper waste is recycled, food is purchased locally when possible, Green-Seal certified cleaning supplies are increasing by the day and food pulpers at Everybody’s Kitchen and Parkside Restaurant convert leftovers into mulch. The absence of dining trays alone conserves over 76,000 gallons of washing water per year.

One of the most tangible methods of waste elimination is USC Hospitality’s introduction in December 2009 of an outreach to Los Angeles Mission, donating excess food to the homeless population of Skid row. This both cuts down on bulky trash and brings fresh food to hungry people — even if it is from EVK.

Personally, I’m a fan of the

farmers market featuring locally grown produce. (In case you lost track of it when it left Shrine Place, you can now find it on University Avenue on Tuesdays.) Six percent of the food available at USC is bought from local providers such as those selling in the market. The ecological perks of farmers markets are seemingly endless; the food is organic, which eliminates the exposure of harmful pesticides to the environment, and locally produced food cuts down on energy expended in transportation and shipping.

Plus, it’s tasty.

It’s encouraging to see such an interest taken in environmentally friendly food, especially in a university setting, where more than 3,600 students crowd into the dining halls everyday. USC, though it left the gate a little late in the race for Most Sustainable University, is beginning to catch up thanks to the comprehensive efforts of departments like Hospitality.

Food preparation is easy to overlook when we consider ways to cut Mother Nature a break. After the basic “buy organic, don’t use styrofoam cups” talk, sustainable cooking often gets lost somewhere between carpooling and turning off the water when you brush your teeth. USC Hospitality has done an admirable job taking strides to ensure that, as the central facilities of our campus becomes greener, the residential dining halls are not left behind.

Who knows, we might even pass up UCLA.

Kastalia Medrano is a freshman majoring in print journalism.