The Food and Sustainability Working Group at MIT set out in fall 2017 to recommend concrete strategies for how the MIT campus can further provide access to healthy, affordable food through systems and processes that consider the health, social, and environmental impacts of food procurement, production, consumption, and waste on campus.
The food we eat. The design of our built environment. The technology we use everyday. The resilience of the community to withstand climatic events. All of these factors and many more are intricately linked to both the health of people and the planet.
Supporting a healthy and vibrant community
At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we seek to explore these connections and work with our operational and research partners to activate campus systems that promote public health, environmental sustainability, economic vitality and innovation in our local and global communities.
MIT’s location along the Charles River and its proximity to a rich transit network make walking, biking, and car-free travel possible for many members of the community. The Institute also offers several programs and initiatives designed to promote wellness on campus. Our dining partners have begun to integrate health and sustainability into their menus and operations. New buildings and renovation projects are presenting opportunities to rethink our indoor environments and urban landscapes.
Building on this work, MITOS seeks to work with our partners to further explore:
The ways in which our built and natural environments can promote healthy lifestyles and community resilience
The ways we procure, produce, and consume food on campus
The critical relationship between our campus food system and climate change
The health-related co-benefits of low-carbon transportation to, from, and around campus
MITOS is currently working collaboratively to transform the campus food system and build a campus that promotes health and well-being via operations, education, research, and innovation in the following areas.
Access MIT represents the Institute’s progressive vision for rethinking the culture of commuting and encouraging sustainable transportation practices. Access MIT provides benefits to employees that choose active, sustainable modes of commuting.
MITOS is part of a community of departments, labs, and centers working toward elements of a sustainable campus. Featured below are initiatives from some of our partners.
The MindHandHeart Initiative taps into MIT’s passionate community spirit and innovative problem-solving skills to enhance mental health and overall well-being at MIT.
Community Wellness at MIT Medical works with the entire MIT community to provide the resources and programs that can help you make healthy choices, from yoga to healthful eating.
GetFit strives to make MIT a healthier community by encouraging participants to exercise regularly via a challenge, which typically runs from early February through April.
The Open Agriculture (“OpenAg”) Initiative at the MIT Media Lab is on a mission to bring out the farmer in everyone by creating healthier, more engaging, and more inventive food systems. OpenAg is building collaborative tools and platforms to develop an open-source ecosystem of food technologies.
MIT Dining manages numerous venues and programs to provide food to students and community members, from residential dining halls to retail cafes.
In addition to providing health and wellness services to the community, MIT Medical is an active partner in integrating sustainability into the campus health framework, from public health and climate resiliency planning to healthy commuting practices.
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
There are multiple groups on campus that are involved in food research:
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.
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.