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The Carletonian

Seeking sustainable, not political

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My work at Carleton as a food activist could perhaps be interpreted as “food divestment.” I work with students from the Sustainability Office and Bon Appetit to analyze our dining halls’ receipts and propose potential product shifts without increasing the overall dining budget. We use a tool called the Real Food Calculator, which was created by a national organization, the Real Food Challenge, to set standards for what can be called “real food” – food that truly nourishes people and planet. As a whole, the Real Food Challenge mobilizes students to shift a billion dollars towards “real food” by 2020. Perhaps a better term would be “reinvestment,” but like the divestment campaign, we are also urging Carleton to use its institutional purchasing power to support for humane, local, and sustainable industries.

Carleton students working with the Real Food Challenge also face similar opposition from administration on institutionalizing our work. For years, Carleton students tried to convince the college to sign a “Real Food Campus Commitment,” committing to reaching a certain percentage of Real Food by 2020. Carleton would become part of a growing network of schools that have also signed commitments ensuring continued reform in the dining hall. Carleton currently sits around 25% real food, and at first we hoped to sign on for 30-33%. But it quickly became clear that administration was not interested in this agreement. They would not even consider signing on to 20% (which we proposed in an effort to have some sort of institutionalized food policy and gain recognition as an RFC school). Their reasoning was all too similar to Weitz’s, a clear “presumption against taking institutional political positions.”

I was disappointed with and disheartened by my school. This prolonged dismissal aligned with the college’s refusal to uphold the College Faculty, Council, and Board of Trustees resolution against the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendments limiting the freedom to marry and requiring voter IDs in 2012. To my knowledge, this was the first resolution of its kind in many years, but college administrators were resolute that, as an institution, Carleton College would not take a stance. Even though the faculty that drive this institution came together and resolved to make a historic statement. I felt like Carleton was not democratic, as key gate keeping executives refused to support initiatives supported by both students and faculty. In refusing to ever take a stance, I felt the institution was hypocritical, claiming to draw students who wanted to change the world while refusing to use its own power to do just that.

However, in retrospect, I now understand some of the reasoning behind an apolitical institution. It is actually the same reason why the faculty passed the 2012 resolution: “The core principles of a liberal arts education are based on mutual respect, communication, and engagement, which commits us to create and affirm a culture of respect for people in all aspects of their lives” and “Carleton College is dedicated to attracting and retaining a diverse faculty, staff, student body, and sees this as among our highest priorities.” Therefore, the college does not want to prohibit the students it attracts by aligning politically. As students, we all benefit from being able to learn from a diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints.

But, the 2012 faculty resolution and the issue of divestment are not one in the same. Disaffirming a constitutional amendment is inherently political. Divesting from fossil fuels and the industrial food system does not have to be. In my mind, environmental decisions should be apolitical. By definition, political means “of or relating to government and public affairs of the country and/or the ideas of a particular party or group in politics.” In theory, divesting from environmentally degrading and unethical companies is a matter of exercising economic choice, unrelated to governance, public policy, or a specific party. But in practice, we all know that the U.S government is ineffably wrapped in corporate interests. We have not kept money out of politics. The environmental impact of fossil fuels and climate change are objective facts. They are harsh realities that affect all consumers, people, animals, and the planet, regardless of political affiliation. But reforming the energy and food industries would drastically change the way powerful corporations do business, and unfortunately these corporations are aligned politically. They have the money to fund politicians who protect their economic interests. They even hire media specialists to cast doubt on scientific fact in order to make a “political” debate of a fundamental reality (don’t believe me, watch “Merchants of Doubt”).

I understand Carleton’s desire to support all political viewpoints, but it makes me deeply upset that protecting this planet has to be political. Especially when it comes to having free choice to support a certain economy. Shifting money towards sustainable practices is investing in the future. It should be seen as supporting all life on Earth, not a political agenda.

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