Eating green is more than just making sure you get your veggies – it’s also about making sure your meals aren’t leaving a trail of garbage and carbon emissions behind them. On a college campus, this can be extremely difficult, especially when your main source of food comes from wherever your meal plan is accepted. The food that you do make at home is less likely to be a locally-sourced culinary masterpiece and more likely to be “microwaveable” with instructions like “just add water.” It doesn’t seem that bad until you take a closer look at the package.
For a 2000 calorie diet, the FDA recommends that individuals consume 50 grams (g) of protein, no more than 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium, and no more than 65 g of fat. One serving of ramen noodles contains 4 g of protein (8% Daily Value, or DV), 380 mg of sodium (16% DV), and 7 g (11% DV) of fat. One microwavable pasta meal contains 14 g of protein (28% DV), 690 mg of sodium (29% DV), and 10 g of fat (15% DV).
The packaging around these fast and easy meals, whether it be a plastic wrapper or a Styrofoam cup, is often not recyclable. Sometimes the packaging might be able to be recycled (especially the cardboard box around your frozen dinner!), but not all recycling centers take them for any number of reasons. It should be noted that food wrappers are soiled with food more often than not, which might contaminate the rest of your recyclables – rendering it all trash. UT Recycling’s Public Drop-Off and the City of Knoxville only accept the cardboard your freezer meal comes in, and potentially a plastic dish if it’s been cleaned thoroughly.
Without even mentioning the impact that production, storage, and transportation has on the environment, it’s clear that these foods are not “sustainable” in any sense. In moderation, these foods are a quick and easy fix, but they aren’t healthy for you as a person, and they aren’t healthy for our environment. Here at UTK, you have some other options. Every Wednesday afternoon (4 to 7 PM), UT Gardens hosts a Farmers’ Market, and every Wednesday (11 AM to 2 PM) and Saturday (9 AM to 2 PM) Nourish Knoxville hosts a Farmers’ Market at Market Square. Farmers’ Markets are a great source of good, fresh, and local food for reasonable prices. By being aware of the food you buy and where it comes from can help to reduce waste and save money.
Saving money is always welcome – and if you can save green while eating healthier for yourself your environment, why wouldn’t you? College can be really stressful at times, and sometimes it’s easier to just grab the fast and easy meal and call it a day – but it’s also important to remember that the behaviors you pick up during your time in college can have a lasting impact on how you live the rest of your life. College is a learning experience – don’t waste your time here.