An Update on Sustainable Food At Williams

By Maria Tews ‘23

Food Sustainability Intern for the Zilkha Center Summer 2020


As the sustainable food intern for the Zilkha Center this past summer, I began my work by researching the College’s current commitments to food sustainability as well as peer institutions (NESCAC) food sustainability initiatives. This allowed me to learn about the work currently being done, and where Williams could improve in the future. I learned that the College currently tracks its food sustainability through its work with the “Real Food Challenge”, with previous Zilkha Center food interns’ calculating the yearly quantity of food Williams’ purchases that qualify as “real” food based on Real Food Standards that are “local and community-based”, “fair”, “ecologically sound”, and “humane”. While the Real Food Challenge is an excellent holistic way to ensure that Williams’ prioritizes procuring food that comes from a sustainable background, it doesn’t take into account the greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the food. This is where the Cool Food Pledge comes in.


My main project this summer was researching the Cool Food Pledge and starting the legwork to potentially get Williams to sign on to this great program. The Cool Food Pledge (CFP) is the brainchild of the World Resources Institute, UN Environment, and many other organizations and its main goal is to help dining facilities reduce food-associated greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030. The main method of achieving this goal by reducing meat consumption and shifting consumer diets towards plant-based eating. Through my Cool Food Pledge work, I was able to meet with Gerard Pozzi, a Research and Engagement Specialist for the CFP Food Program and discuss the specifics about what joining CFP would look like for Williams. Some of the benefits for Williams would include access to a member’s only diagnostic tool and a Solution Directory, and the ability to go through a strategic planning process with CFP staff that would result in Williams receiving a full report with outreach and marketing strategies as well as share and learn webinars. The Cool Food Pledge Behavioral Playbook is published online for public use as well, and I was able to read and type up a summary of tips that I thought Williams’ Dining could implement in the future. Using the CFP calculator, I was also able to use the food weights of all purchased animal products and legumes from the past fiscal year to calculate Williams’ food related carbon costs, GHG emissions from agricultural supply chains, and other statistics. This information is useful in showing the environmental costs from the food the College purchases, and especially the heavy environmental burden of red meat compared to plant-based alternatives. While the College might not join the Cool Food pledge this fall due to the additional Dining difficulties that COVID-19, I think the work I did this summer shows that being a CFP member would be an asset for the future of Williams’ food sustainability.


Some of my other work this summer included meeting with Dining Services staff such as Temesgen Araya and Charlotte Clark, looking at Real Food Challenge disqualifiers and vendors that Williams should no longer source foods from, and writing a Record article about sustainable dining during COVID-19. I also really enjoyed the daily meetings with the other Zilkha Center interns where we met with College staff from various sectors to learn about campus sustainability, had a workshop with community activist Emma Schoenberg from the Climate Disobedience Center, talked to Jane Winn from the Berkshire Environmental Action Team about local activism, and even got an environmental science lesson from Willams Professor Mea Cook. 


Attached: Graphs from the Cool Food Pledge Calculator with Williams’ results from the past fiscal year