The Green Eating Project Demonstrates College Students Willingness to Eat More Sustainably
A study done by the University of Rhode Island has recently uncovered an effective way to encourage US college students to eat more sustainably (Pender et al.). It was hypothesized that if university students were educated on green eating behaviors such as buying local produce, they would be more motivated to practice these behaviors.
The current food system is being overwhelmed by demand for unhealthy and unsustainable foods (Monroe et al.). Without proper action, the planet's resources could become depleted and access to food and water would be further limited. A consumer oriented approach proposed to offset more environmental depletion is to shift current eating behaviors to “green eating” behaviors.
In a study on whether the projected global population in 2050 could be fed using just today's agricultural land, only an international populace of vegans had a simulated 100% success rate. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that there’s only a 15% success rate of feeding the world on Western, animal-protein rich diets in 2050 without further land use changes (Reganold, 2016).
To keep up with the growing caloric demand of a growing population, there has been a concentrated effort on optimizing traits like “size, growth rate, [and] pest resistance [rather] than nutrition” of produce (Journal of the American College of Nutrition). Studies of nutritional data from the past 50 years show that many fruits and vegetables have reliably declined “in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C” (Journal of the American College of Nutrition).
One solution to reclaiming these lost nutrients is to grow organic in healthier soil, but modern agricultural practices have continually damaged our topsoil through intensification to “increase the short-term productivity of American farms [while] also causing excessive erosion, which threatens productivity over the long term” (Trautmann et. al., 2012)
Green Eating Behaviors were defined as eating habits that prioritize environmental sustainability.
Specific behaviors include:
Eating locally produced foods
Reducing food waste
Decreasing meat consumption.
According to the results, the study demonstrated that the students who participated in the intervention were willing to eat more sustainably. 1248 students were recruited for a study called the “The Green Eating Project: web based intervention to promote environmentally conscious eating behaviours in US university students” (Monroe et al). The randomly selected group of participants were mostly women, between the ages of 18-24 and many of them were in their first year of college. Researchers selected college students specifically as the participants for this intervention because many of them are making their own food choices for the first time in their lives as well as solidifying their lifelong values (Monroe et al.).
The intervention educated them on the advantages and disadvantages of eating sustainably. The researchers utilized an online education system which included educational videos and corresponding critical thinking questions. The researchers were able to ensure all participants received objective information about sustainable eating practices so the students could critically think about their current eating habits and their willingness to change to green eating habits.
After participating in the modules, the participants overwhelmingly decided they could practice green eating behaviors more in their everyday life (Pender et al.). All students who participated were first surveyed on their current practices and opinions on green eating behaviors. The students selected for the intervention were then shown videos of the positives and negatives of green eating behaviors. At the end of the study, all the students were surveyed again about their opinions and practices. The pre-survey and post-surveys were compared to see how the students' opinions and practices changed through the study.
University students are an important group to study as they are free to make their own food choices without oversight from parents or guardians. Due to URI’s buffet-style dining halls, with multiple vegan, vegetarian, and meat based entrees students are able to try eating habits that may not have been available to them when living at home.
Eating behaviors are influenced almost entirely by the eating environment one grew up in; this makes breaking the cycle of unsustainable eating habits difficult (Monroe et al.). Utilizing critical thinking research and easily adaptable online interventions, creating new and more sustainable eating habits is becoming more of a reality.
This type of research is crucial for today's world as universities continue to shift their curriculums online due to COVID-19. Knowing that this online intervention was successful in the short term, further research can be done exploring the long-term implications of online interventions. Additional research should be conducted utilizing larger sample sizes to gain a broader understanding of people's readiness to adapt more green eating behaviors. Due to the study’s online format, a larger sample size is more easily attainable than an in-person study. This study was made available to three fall semester courses; it would be interesting to see how many students participated if it was offered to the entire student body. Future research should also be conducted on other populations such as children or adults to understand if this type of intervention is successful among all age groups as it will require support from all people to prevent furthering the climate crisis.
Monroe, Jessica T, et al. “The Green Eating Project: Web-Based Intervention to Promote Environmentally Conscious Eating Behaviours in US University Students.” Public Health Nutrition, vol. 18, no. 13, 2015, pp. 2368–2378., doi:10.1017/s1368980015002396.
Pender, Samantha, et al. “P24 Differences in College Students’ Decision Making Related to Sustainable Protein Choices.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, vol. 52, no. 7, 2020, doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2020.04.069.
Reganold, J. (2016, August 14). Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/14/organic-farming-agriculture-world-hunger
Trautmann, N. M., Porter, K. S., & Wagenet, R. J. (2012). Modern Agriculture: Its Effects on the Environment. Retrieved from http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/facts-slides-self/facts/mod-ag-grw85.aspx