In a world where food can come from a vending machine and “high fructose corn syrup” is a household name, what does the word “sustainability” mean? With orange, cheesy fingertips desperately reaching deep into the plastic bag for the last Cheeto in the midst of an all-nighter, many current college students would exemplify the transition into a society in which sustainability no longer exists. However, I met up with Jackie Patterson, a junior at Penn State, to talk to her about how she keeps sustainability relevant, even in college.


Photo by Tarika Narain

Q: What is your background with sustainability and sustainable eating?

A: Sustainable agriculture is more of a hobby of mine. I am from an area surrounded by farms, and in high school I became interested in the locally grown movement and getting to know where our food comes from. I helped with fundraising to start a food co-op back home, and helped with the start of a community garden. Other than that, I just really enjoy good, fresh food and cooking, too.


Photo by Claire Hillman

I think we can all agree that we savor the times in which our parents come to visit and we finally have the opportunity to eat something green (and mooch off of their money to do it). We all enjoy the chances to eat sustainability when we can—many students just do not believe they have the time or money to access this food.

Q: How are you personally involved with sustainability at Penn State?

A: The initiative that I am involved with, Crop Mobs, is a cooperative organization that brings farmers and the community together to experience sustainable agriculture. We figure out what farmers need help with–be it weeding, harvesting, processing, etc.—and organize volunteers to head to a local farm for a day to help complete the much needed tasks. While there, the “mob” exchanges conversation with each other and the farmer, receives a tour of the farm and shares a meal of local ingredients.

Q: How would you define ‘sustainable eating’?

A: I would define that rather ambiguous term as being conscious about what you put into your body and having it align with your outlook on society. We all hope to make a healthier world, along with a healthier body, and we make the decision to support those beliefs each time we eat. Eating food that is produced in uber-sustainable ways is not easily accessible to everyone, but by consciously choosing with our forks to support sustainable practices, we are on our way to a healthier world and a much more delicious dinner plate!


Photo by Tarika Narain

Q: What does sustainable eating look like for a college student, and is it hard to do?

A: For students living on campus, there really isn’t much of a choice in what you’re eating. Yes, you can choose to consume the healthier plant-based options over the fast-food options in the dining halls, but the university still controls how your food gets to your plate. The exercise of choice then has to be more proactive for students—getting involved in initiatives like the student farm or local meals in the dining hall so as to get your voice heard. And when more sustainable options are offered in the dining halls, choosing to eat those counts as a vote with the fork! For those living off campus, we have a lot more choice about what we eat, and that starts at the grocery store, and hopefully with the frequent trips to the farmers market!

So next time there is an opportunity to eat locally with an organization or at a farmers market, take control of your food and eat something sustainable and green (other than the all-too-small squirt of guac on the side of a Redifer burrito)!

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