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Flexitarian dietary, food waste panel kicks off HCI’s Food Week

The Healthy Campus Initiative hosted a panel about the impact of certain eating habits on the environment. Speakers discussed the benefits of eating a diet with more plant matter and less animal protein for the human body. (Emaan Baqai/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Connie Zhou

Oct. 25, 2016 12:44 a.m.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest in the world behind China and the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, a health sciences professor told students at a panel Monday.

Dana Hunnes, adjunct assistant professor and senior dietician at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, discussed the benefits of a mostly vegetarian lifestyle at the Food Day panel discussion. The panel kicked off the Healthy Campus Initiative’s Food Week, which will consist of food-related events and programs throughout the week.

The Healthy Campus Initiative is a campuswide wellness movement that aims to educate the public about healthy living.

[Related: International No Diet Day event to promote healthy body image]

Elliot Mermel, an entrepreneur and co-founder of Coalo Valley Farms, and Jennifer Jay, an environmental science professor, also spoke at the panel about food choices from the perspectives of dietary science, climate change and agriculture.

Coalo Valley Farms is a business that focuses on farming and harvesting meal worms, crickets and fish.

At the panel, HCI served flexitarian lunches, or plant-based meals, that occasionally contain meat. Organizers served a traditional Mexican hot stew called pozole and three different salads.

“We are hoping to demonstrate how you can actually take personal steps towards a healthier lifestyle that can also be healthier for our planet,” said Wendelin Slusser, associate vice provost of the HCI and the panel moderator.

Hunnes said many people have misconceptions that animal protein consumption is necessary for health.

“In one of the classes, I taught animal-based diets really dramatically increase the risk of chronic diseases,” Hunnes said.

She added that cultures with plant-based diets are often healthier. Hunnes also described how she prepares flexitarian dishes like stuffed bell peppers with pepper and barley at home.

“If you can make it with meat, you can make it without meat,” she said.

The panelists said they think adapting to a flexitarian lifestyle is a healthier choice that helps reduce food’s carbon footprint, especially since food waste contributes to the generation of greenhouse gases on Earth.

“When you do throw food in the trash, you are not only wasting food, you are also wasting food into a landfill,” Mermel said.

[Related: UCLA groups to receive increased funding to address food security]

Mermel also said he thinks current agricultural practices focus more on marginal profit instead of environmental sustainability.

Students who attended the panel said they learned about the environmental impact that lifestyle choices can have.

Ilona Tarnavsky, a fifth-year anthropology student, said she thinks the food panel was a good way to bring people together to share their thoughts on sustainable living.

Donnie Zheng, a public health graduate student, said the event helped her connect individual wellness with its environmental impact.

“In order to take care of Earth, we have to take care of ourselves,” Slusser said in closing the panel.

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Connie Zhou
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