Food Systems

Constructing a healthy urban food system on campus

Recognizing that increasing levels of urbanization, shifting climate patterns, and changing diets deeply influence local and global food security, departments across MIT are working collaboratively to address food system challenges at multiple scales. MITOS has set out to explore the culture of food across the Institute -- from dining halls to labs -- and connect with thought leaders to create a shared vision for a sustainable campus food system. 

Our approach

In recent years, the campus launched initiatives such as the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS), which seeks pathways for supplying fresh water and food for the world’s growing population as the pressures of climate change increase. Student initiatives such as the Food and Agricultural Club, which hosts an annual Innovation Prize, are also seeking to address elements of the food system on campus and globally.  Operationally, MIT Dining and its partners are aiming to improve health and nutrition, effective procurement and production of food, and waste management across campus facilities.


The MIT campus itself is rich with opportunity to leverage its expertise and demonstrate urban solutions that serve as a source of learning and innovation to other communities. In the fall of 2017, MITOS launched a small working group of thought leaders across campus to begin to develop a preliminary set of recommendations for advancing a sustainable food system on campus. The working group is exploring ways in which the MIT food system might further:

  • Protect, conserve and enhance soil, water, wildlife habitat and biodiversity;

  • Reduce energy and water consumption, food waste, and greenhouse gas emissions;

  • Reduce use of pesticides and other toxic or hazardous materials;

  • Increase nutritious menu options that have lower carbon and water footprints;

  • Maintain transparent and traceable supply chains;

  • Support safe and healthy working conditions and fair compensation;

  • Ensure healthy, humane animal treatment;

  • Promote health and well-being of the community;

  • Improve accessibility and consumption of high quality culturally meaningful food.

A preliminary report will be available in summer 2018. Read more about the 2017-2018 Food & Sustainability Working Group.

Sustainability in the campus food system

MIT partners with Bon Appétit as its on-campus vendor for residential dining. As a company, they strive to achieve greater social responsibility and sustainability, which led them to launch their Farm to Fork program in 1999. This program is a company-wide commitment to buying locally, with chefs striving to purchase at least 20 percent of their ingredients from small (under $5 million in sales), owner-operated farms and ranches located within 150 miles of their kitchens. Together with MIT staff, MIT Dining also maintains a rooftop garden program at McCormick House, with about 80 boxes and an auto-watering system. To learn more about MIT Dining, visit here

The MIT Recycling program manages on-campus food waste collection. This includes food waste from nearly 20 dining facilities, student residences, and independent living groups on campus. Around 12 tons of food waste is collected each month, much of it coming from the kitchen prep areas of dining locations on campus. Additionally, some residence halls, particularly graduate dorms, collect food waste for composting. Currently, only food waste or plant material may be collected, due to limitations in regional infrastructure for processing compostable containers and silverware.

Food scraps

Opportunities for action and learning on campus

MIT offers many on-campus resources related to food, wellness, and sustainability. These include the MIT Medical Community Wellness program as well as many classes during IAP and semester terms. Explore more:

MIT Medical
Community Wellness

IAP Classes
Energy, Environment, and Sustainability
Food and Beverages
Life Skills

Semester Classes
1.74 Land, Water, Food, and Climate
11.377 Food Systems and the Environment
24.03 Good Food: The Ethics and Politics of Food
21A.155 Food, Culture, and Politics
21W.012 Writing and Rhetoric: Food for Thought
21G.045 Global Chinese Food
STS.429 Food and Power

Accessing local food at Farmers’ Markets

During the Spring, Summer and Fall the City of Cambridge supports seven farmers markets. Two spring to fall markets accept EBT/SNAP - the Central Square Market and the Harvard University Market. In addition, the Cambridge Winter Farmers Market at the Cambridge Community Center accepts EBT/SNAP.

In Somerville, the Somerville Winter Farmers’ Market (December-April) accepts SNAP/ EBT and HIP (Healthy Incentives Program). The Union Square Farmers’ Market in Somerville (May-November) also SNAP/EBT/Food Stamps, and several vendors also accept WIC and Elder Coupons.

Cambridge and Boston both have many additional farmers markets that are available throughout the week. Find a market near you:

Additional MIT Initiatives

There are multiple groups on campus that are involved in food research:

Open ag
Open Agriculture Initiative

The MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAg) is on a mission to create healthier, more engaging, and more inventive future food systems. We believe the precursor to a healthier and more sustainable food system will be the creation of an open-source ecosystem of technologies that enable and promote transparency, networked experimentation, education, and hyper-local production. OpenAg brings together partners from industry, government, and academia in a research collective that’s creating collaborative tools and open technology platforms for the exploration of future food systems.

Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS)

The Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) was created to coordinate and promote water and food research at MIT, emphasizing the deployment of effective technologies, programs, and policies that will have a measurable and international impact as humankind adapts to a rapidly expanding and evolving population on a changing planet.