About 50 students attended a TEDxUofM Salon event entitled “Eating Your Way to a More Sustainable Future” Wednesday evening in North Quad. The event featured a panel of five sustainable food industry experts from the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor community. 


The event started by watching a TED Talk by Bruce Friedrich, co-founder and executive director of The Good Food Institute. In the video, Friedrich discussed how to create alternatives to the meat industry that cost the same or cheaper and taste the same or better than conventional meat.


Kathy Sample, owner and founder of Argus Farm Stop, a farmers market in Ann Arbor, emphasized her relationship with food and dedication to sustainability in her introduction. 


“I feel like the community around food is what makes families strong and what makes groups of people care about each other and spend time together doing something that’s meaningful,” Sample said.


The event was moderated by Business junior Riya Gupta and LSA junior Shivani Bhargava, who asked the panelists two questions, and then opened the floor for audience questions. The questions were centered on problems challenging sustainability and how much individuals’ decisions, such as to be vegan or vegetarian, have an impact on the food industry.


Lilly Fink Shapiro, Sustainable Food Systems Initiative project manager, echoed other panelists about the current level of food production and the excess that goes to waste.


“We grow more than enough food to feed the world and we do not need more industrial farming to feed the world,” Fink Shapiro said. “The issues are equity and distribution. The issue is not production.”


On the topic of individual impact, the panelists agreed individual actions can make a difference. Fink Shapiro also explained individuals are only one part of the puzzle, and there needs to be a focus on sustainability from leaders in the industry as well.


Jeremy Moghtader, program manager for the Campus Farm at the University, spoke of human behavior tendencies to do what is convenient and encouraged industry to use this psychology for the better.


“You design a system that makes it so that people follow the path of least resistance to the better outcome,” Moghtader said. “It’s both about personal choice and the environment in which we make those personal choices.”


The event concluded with an exercise to physically represent individual’s daily greenhouse gas carbon footprint. The organizers gave each audience member a balloon and asked them to blow air into it to correspond to how damaging foods they eat are to the environment. The organizers posted common food items on the board, and the equivalent puffs of air for each one. 


LSA junior Elana Weberman said she liked how the activity represented personal consumption habits.


“It’s really important to participate in events that U of M puts on that focus on sustainability because there’s so much that we can do and continue to learn about,” Weberman said. “In order to make a difference in the field of sustainability, it’s important for every individual to do their part. Also it’s really important to have this cultural change, these behavioral changes where people come together to make a difference.”


Gupta said she learned so much in organizing the event and was very happy with the turnout. She emphasized the balloon activity seemed to have an impact on attendees. 


“We really wanted to find something that’s relevant to the U-M community right now that students really care about and the Ann Arbor community could really care about,” Gupta said. “Sustainable business is something our whole team was excited about. We just dove headfirst into it. We think it’s a really relevant topic that needs to have more awareness built around it.”


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