Today I’ll be talking about my experience volunteering with UW Frozen Meals this semester, and specifically I’ll be sharing about sustainability, which is part of what drew me to become involved with the program.
In general, sustainability is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time, and it’s become an even bigger part of my life in the last couple of years as I’ve begun working towards a major in conservation biology and studying it more in-depth.
For me, spending time outside — doing things like hiking or bird watching or even just walking around Madison always gives me a strong appreciation for the beauty of natural places, and reminds me of the growing need to preserve and restore them. I believe that nature, whether it’s wild, expansive places like forests, and rivers, and lakes, or simply a small pond or a patch of trees in the middle of a city, all has intrinsic value and is worth caring for.
And beyond the aesthetic pleasure we can receive from natural places, it’s becoming increasingly important to think about how the health of the environment impacts our own health and survival as humans. We rely on well-functioning ecosystems to provide us with necessities like clean water, pollinators that allow us to grow crops, phytoplankton that supply the oxygen we breathe, decomposers that break down our waste materials, and so on.
In my experience, I find it really meaningful to think about how interconnected everything is, our own lives and well-being dependent on the lives of so many other species of plants and animals. But this can also be something that’s easy to forget — I know when I spend a lot of time indoors and on technology, I can sometimes feel detached from the natural environment, which can lead to also blocking out environmental problems that aren’t directly affecting me.
However, the problems that are facing our environment — climate change, pollution, urbanization, overconsumption, and so on — are becoming more and more urgent, and we can’t afford to ignore them. And so, part of my approach to looking at these issues and to practicing sustainability is something that’s also deeply connected with my faith. I view sustainability as a way of caring for God’s creation and also of loving my neighbors. This is because I know that making attempts to live more sustainably in my own life can in part help to ensure that others have access to things like clean drinking water, clean air, protection from extreme weather, and so on; it can benefit the lives of other species with whom we share the planet, and it ensures a better future for generations down the line as well.
Now, to connect all this back to UW Frozen Meals at Pres House, I want to talk about why I find this program so exciting when it comes to sustainability. The central purpose of the UW Frozen Meals program has to do with supporting students who face food insecurity while also reducing food waste on campus. Both food insecurity and food waste are major problems globally, and food waste is an especially significant issue environmentally.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States each year, which is between 30 and 40% of the total US food supply. This can be harmful to the environment in several ways. For one, wasting this amount of food means that we also waste the enormous amounts of water, energy, and greenhouse gas emissions needed to produce it. Additionally, the majority of food waste ends up in landfills, where it emits large amounts of methane, which is a leading cause of climate change.
And when we consider that although this much food goes to waste each year, there are still millions of people in the US who struggle with food insecurity and hunger, I think it’s clear that work needs to be done to change these statistics. That’s why I think programs that address these issues, like UW Frozen Meals, are so important, and it’s a big part of why I choose to be a volunteer.
I try as much as I can to support sustainable causes in my own life and community, and I think volunteering with Frozen Meals is a great way to do that. It’s been a valuable experience for me this semester to see the people who come get meals and are benefited by the program, to connect with my fellow volunteers, and to feel like I’m making a small difference in the larger cause of these issues.