Comment & Analysis
Feb 21, 2022

This Green Week, Trinity is Turning its Attention to Our Broken Food Systems

From deforestation to supermarkets throwing out excess produce, our food chain is a serious contributor to waste and climate change, writes Michele Hallahan.

Michele HallahanOp-Ed Contributor

Over the past 20 years, Trinity has kept up a tradition of having a week devoted to raising awareness of environmental sustainability issues in the third week of February. Various themes have been highlighted over the past 20 years, from waste to energy consumption to greenhouse gases and this year’s theme is “Repairing our Broken Food Systems”.

You might wonder: what is “broken” with our food systems? When we think of farming, we think of Nature and humans, harmoniously growing food together in a leafy country area, right? In actual fact, most of our food is produced under grueling industrial conditions: giant farms (up to 150,000 acres in the USA and even larger in Australia) filled with just one or two crops, farmed with pesticides and herbicides so nothing else can live on this land aside from the corn, wheat or rice that is grown. Closer to home, Irish farmers are expanding farm size and taking out hedgerows, thereby erasing precious habitat and biodiversity across Ireland.

Globally, food growing, production, transport and processing contribute 26 per cent of our greenhouse gas (aka “carbon”) emissions to climate change. Why? Take into account the fact that 70 per cent of the Amazon rainforest (the lungs of our planet) has been destroyed mostly by cattle farming since before 1995 alone and you start to get a picture of how destructive farming practices have become. Industrial farming is eroding some of our best soils on the planet, and soil is one of the most powerful carbon sequestration resources that we have. By killing off soil microbes (with 70 years of dosing with pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals), we have reduced soils’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide and hold onto it.


Another aspect to the industrial production and processing of food is the nutritional content. The nutritional value of our food has decreased in the past 40 years, due in part to a) chemical use in farming – the insecticides, fertilisers and other toxic chemicals used for pest control – and b) over-processing of food (think McDonalds/ frozen pizza). In fact, the United Nations commissioned a report in 2016 which estimated that there were only 60 harvests left in the large-scale agricultural soils across the world, due to how badly soils have been treated since chemical, large-scale farming practices became the norm.

70 per cent of the Amazon rainforest (the lungs of our planet) has been destroyed mostly by cattle farming since before 1995 alone

On the tail end of the food chain, food waste is contributing to climate change: almost 40 per cent of our food is wasted globally. That’s not just down to you and I throwing out food at home, but also due to waste that occurs along the way from farm to distribution to corporate chain grocery shops. Quite often the global market has too much of one product on the market, so farmers end up burning their crops, rather than selling them (due to falling prices). That’s a shameful waste on a planet where 811 million people live in permanent starvation or semi-starvation conditions.

Depressed yet?! There’s plenty wrong, but with increasing awareness, things are starting to change. The number of people who now eat vegan or vegetarian food by choice has increased significantly since 2000 and many people have reduced their meat intake, due to health and planetary concerns. They do this to reduce their carbon footprint as much as for ethical reasons.

Globally, we are seeing a steady rise in organic, regenerative and biological farming – farming practices that work with Nature instead of against it. Already, nine per cent of land farmed in Ireland is farmed using these practices.

Over the course of Green Week, Trinity Catering have many treats in store: a 75 per cent vegan/ vegetarian menu in the Buttery and Dining Hall (thanks to your vote on the campaign!), no charge on plant based milks during the month of February, a 20 per cent discount on hot drinks when you bring your own reusable cup, a new vegan and palm oil-free vending machine in the Arts Building and vegan butter now available in all catering outlets.

We have many brilliant events for you to get involved in during Green Week: from a biodiversity panel featuring nationally renowned chef Darina Allen, to a discussion on the carbon importance of peatlands, to a one day Swap Shop for students (take five items home for free, bring donations too!), and national treasure Manchan Magan giving a talk in the Botany department on Wednesday at 7pm, you can find a wide variety of interests to satiate your appetite here in the Green Week calendar.

Michele Hallahan is Sustainability Advisor to the Office of the Provost.

Trinity’s 20th annual Green Week is taking place from February 21st to 25th.

Sign Up to Our Weekly Newsletters

Get The University Times into your inbox twice a week.