Even without the dangers of these two products, there are contradictions and dishonesty in the way that UVM represents its dining services. I recently had the privilege of meeting with Bill Hackett, the unit manager of the Marche and Alice’s Café, who offered me some very discouraging news on the state of composting at UVM. He told me that because the Intervale, the local farm that had been taking the compost from UVM, didn’t receive an extension on their leased land, they are no longer accepting any compost. Mr. Hackett went on to explain that all the compost that the University has been taking is being thrown away. He looked at me, pointed at the compost bin and sign above it that are pictured below and said, “it’s all smoke and mirrors now.”
It seems to be something of a trend to criticize UVM for not staying true to its environmental rhetoric. Environmentally savvy students will be quick to cynically tell you that most of the compost collected in the Davis Center is too contaminated to ever use, and is typically just thrown away anyway. Others will cry foul at an earth day festival where generators are brought in to power moon bounces for students to play on. Students will also complain that the vegan and local food options are lacking from dining services. These are serious concerns, and represent points of emphasis for students to push the university towards changing and improving its practices. If the compost is thrown away and we still get most of our food from factory farms, is there hypocrisy in the environmentally righteous rhetoric of the University? Is there virtue in thousands of university students encountering the concepts of local foods and composting as things to be coveted? Or is it simply smoke and mirrors, and are the environmental messages only serving to pacify us UVM students into a false sense of environmental peace, disempowering us from taking dramatic action?
All students who come through the University of Vermont will have an idea of what composting is, as well as an awareness of the local foods movement. It is exposure to these ideas amongst the country’s youth that will help these movements gain momentum. While the efforts themselves may achieve relatively little tangible success while we are at school, the impact they have on our student body’s consciousness should not be underestimated. Without the opportunity to witness the practices of composting and buying locally in the university setting, many students would grow into adults without ever realizing the importance of these practices.
Looking back at the history of the environmental movement shows that some of our most celebrated and important environmental leaders and scholars of today are not always professing novel ideas. In fact, they remind us strongly of the origins of the environmental movement forty years ago, which are still struggling to grab larger portions of the population behind their cause. We can see a pitfall of this movement as the leaders didn’t bring in enough people in a consensus building, educational manner. While environmental causes are of imminent and urgent importance, focusing too much on immediate change without building the consensus and distributing the information effectively may actually achieve less in the long term.
Our composting and consumption patterns of today are very important, but so too are the composting and consumption patterns the next generation of adults. If this next generation, which fills today’s universities, grows up with an appreciation of environmental causes such as composting and local consumption, we can foresee a population that understands and actively pursues more benign methods of relating to the environment. While the University should be actively pressed to improve the way that it relates to the environment, this struggle should be shared and advertised in an effort to spread the ideals of environmental responsibility to the young minds now studying here at UVM. After all, it is these young minds that will be making the decisions that will shape our species’ future, a future that is intimately tied to the fate of the natural environment.