Illustration by Maren Slobody
Illustration by Maren Slobody

Over the past several years, UC Santa Cruz has been recognized as a school that caters to both organic and vegetarian foods and diets. The campus won an award from the largest youth animal rights group in the world: Peta2’s Most Vegan Friendly College in the Large United States Schools Division in 2011. UCSC continues to be a competitor, ranking in the top 10 schools again in 2012. UCSC’s reputation as a bastion of sustainability is a reflection of the rest of the Santa Cruz community.

Don Lane, a member of Santa Cruz City Council and a UCSC alumnus, said interest in healthy foods has continued to grow around the country, but some of the movement’s deepest roots are in the Santa Cruz community. Lane has been a witness to the growth of those roots since 1979 when he co-founded Saturn Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant that uses local and organic ingredients.

“That mindset has been present but it has just continued to grow. Interest in healthy food and organic farming,” Lane said, “these are all things that have been around for a long time but they’re kind of at a peak now.”

Lane said Santa Cruz’s culture around food was similar in the 1970s to how it is now, but interest in vegetarian foods have continued to grow. Saturn Cafe did not start out as a vegetarian restaurant, but eventually became one as the menu changed.

“There still weren’t any vegetarian oriented restaurants,” Lane said. “We felt like there were a lot of younger people especially who were looking for good vegetarian food and we decided that was the way we should go.”

Today there are more students than ever looking for vegetarian food, but UCSC’s students need look no further than their own dining halls for Meatless Mondays — a tradition where the dining halls rotate so one dining hall per week removes all meat products from their menu and introduces students to vegetarian and vegan style meals. UCSC’s meat lovers say they dread Mondays at the dining halls.

“I am definitely not a fan of Meatless Monday,” said second-year Jonathan Ho. “The dining hall here at College Nine has three main entrée stations, and one or even two of those can be dedicated for ‘Meatless Monday’ food instead of having the entire dining hall go vegan.”

Meatless Mondays, which Banana Slugs for Animals (BSA) helped organize with the dining hall services, have been going on for four years now at UCSC. BSA is an animals activist club on campus that reaches out to students and teaches about the abuse inflicted by factory farms on animals.

Students like those in BSA are the driving forces behind dining hall events like Meatless Mondays. BSA president Virginia Hanrahan said Meatless Mondays allow the dining hall services to reduce their carbon footprint, which also led to the creation of Beefless Thursdays and Farm Fridays.

“Meatless Mondays was just kind of a stepping stone for what dining services has extended into in the last few years,” she said.

Hanrahan, who is a fourth-year environmental studies and business management economics major, chose a vegan lifestyle in her freshman year at Santa Cruz. While there are numerous reasons to choose a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, Hanrahan said she thought there are a few very important arguments.

Illustration by Maren Slobody
Illustration by Maren Slobody

“There are three main reasons to choose a vegan or vegetarian diet: the animals and the abuse that goes into [the livestock] industry and [not] supporting an industry that profits off of the cruelty to other beings. [Also] the environmental impact — the livestock industry is worse for the environment than the entire transportation industry. The third thing is health and just the amount of antibiotics and hormones that go into animals these days that people consume. They’re having an effect on people,” Hanrahan said.

BSA has increased their presence on campus by organizing events outside the dining hall. In November, BSA invited Peta2, a youth-oriented version of PETA, to set up an exhibit called “Glass Walls.” The exhibit, located outside of the humanities building, was a blow-up model of a factory farm, which allowed students to walk inside and see pictures, facts and a video of animals’ lives inside the farm. At the end of the tour students were handed pamphlets that promoted vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

While BSA and Peta2 promote a vegetarian diet based on animal rights, Hanrahan said UCSC’s dining hall services take part in Meatless Mondays for environmental reasons.

“They have these goals they want to reach to be more sustainable, and a huge one that makes them more sustainable is reducing meat, because it’s one of the top environmental pollution factors,” Hanrahan said.

Awareness of the link between food production and the environment has played a huge role in shaping Santa Cruz’s food movement since its inception. One program that reduces the carbon footprint of UCSC is the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), which started throughout the UC system in 1986. CASFS works on developing sustainable food and agricultural systems for environmental, economical and social benefits. Undergraduate students often do research and fieldwork down on the farms and students can even apply for hands-on training at the garden through CASFS.

Tim Galarneau, the assistant specialist for Food Systems Education, said students are the driving force that keeps the garden and farm active, as they want more internships, externships and experience around food and gardening.

“It often has come from the students, from the historical founding of the Alan Chadwick Garden. Students wanted to garden on the campus,” he said. “They picked this unrighteous, duff ridden, rocky hillside below Merrill, cleaned it out and made one of the most beautiful intensive organic gardens I think we have in the area. It was from students’ passion.”

The passion of UCSC students is evident through the creation of new campus programs. CASFS also takes part in Farm Fridays, which first started a year ago, where dining halls feature produce from one of the many Santa Cruz local farms. Students who are working with CASFS have helped make it an influential force on campus. Farm Fridays began when a student intern took on the project as dining hall chefs showed interest in making specialized dishes.

UCSC’s farm, which is operated by CASFS, works with organic farms in the community,

many of which have been operating since the beginning of the organic movement. Soquel’s Everett Family Farm, run by Rich Everett, has been collaborating with the university for more than a decade. Everett, who lives on the farm, purchased the land around 10 years ago and began to convert the land for organic farming. He also uses their property for a program that teaches UCSC graduates how to farm by giving them a chance to run a portion of the Everett farm like it’s their own. They work on their plot for two years, learning how to use farm equipment and manage the infrastructure.

Everett started working with UCSC so students could get involved in learning how farming works and how food gets on the table.

“It’s so important for the [UCSC] student body up there, who come from such a diverse geographical and ethnic background, to learn as much as they can while they’re in school about organic farming and what goes into their bodies,” Everett said. “The more you learn the more you’re going to spread the word as you go back home.”

Everett said Santa Cruz may be one of the most supportive communities around for the organic farmer and small family farmers. He said the organic movement is still spreading, but Santa Cruz remains at the forefront of the movement.

“I think it’s really growing, but Santa Cruz is one of many little nucleus points where the whole organic movement is being taught in grammar schools, junior highs, high schools, and at UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo,” he said. “It’s a nucleus of teaching people not only that it’s good for you, but how to do it, and the community highly supports it.”

One of the ongoing struggles in the organic movement is making these foods accessible, which is a difficult task considering the prevalence of pesticide-grown food in many supermarkets and stores. Zane Griffin, the owner of Santa Cruz Local Foods (SCLF), which exclusively sells locally grown organic produce, said community support for the organic movement needs to expand to new levels, especially by making it accessible to those who buy groceries on a budget.

“I think one of the biggest missing links in the food movement is definitely food access,” he said. “Urban areas, especially low-income, underrepresented populations, have less access to healthy foods than more affluent communities and that helps the public health of that population. I think that’s something the organic movement needs to address and resolve.”

Griffin said more consumers will continue to learn about the health factors in conventional and industrial farming through education and word of mouth. According to Griffin, SCLF has customers who consistently buy produce and spread word about the market, creating more business every week.

“Consumers will become more and more aware of the health implications and economic implications of the food system,” Griffin said. “That’s definitely my hope and my prediction — more and more people will eventually be turned onto not just organic food but the locality of the food that they’re consuming.”

Griffin said this can happen by teaching about organic foods in schools and homeless shelters and allowing people to use food stamps at farmers markets.

“The community not only needs to open more farmers markets, making it easier for organic farmers to get the produce to … people,” Griffin said, “but they also need to incorporate education and outreach to [lower-income] populations, so everybody understands why people need to eat locally and organic and know what the health and economic implications are.”