story| Michael Sagna, Staff Writer
photo | Peh Yi Lin
It’s no secret that ‘green lunches’, the twice-weekly program which exclusively serves vegetarian food in the Elm dining hall, are an aspect of Yale-NUS College that people love to hate. Sodexo food is already pretty bad, so it’s natural that when the variety of meal options is reduced, the chances of a good meal fall substantially. This has been a contentious issue on campus, with murmurs from students hoping for the system’s abolition.
On Monday Oct. 21, 2019, Yehoon Ahn ‘23, Class of 2023 Student Government Representative, organized and facilitated a discussion about the green lunches. However, it seemed that people were very hesitant to openly state any anti-green lunch opinions, likely for fear of being berated by the more environment-conscious students. “Everyone who spoke up at the dialogue was for Green Days, and no one spoke against the idea,” Ahn wrote in his report.
Every week, the exact same pattern is observable: on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there is a surge of students eating in the Saga dining hall, which does not participate in the green lunch scheme, contrasted with the shockingly barren Elm dining hall. (Cendana is the least frequented lunch location, likely due to its distance from the majority of classrooms.) This cannot go on. We need a radical change in the way that we think about green lunches.
Green lunches both provide more options to vegetarians and vegans, who often complain that their options are very limited, and reduce the school’s carbon footprint by slashing our consumption of meat, the production of which accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
This is a crucial effort as the world is currently experiencing a climate catastrophe, and Singapore is directly seeing the effects. For example, July of this year was the driest July since record-taking began in 1869, and the second warmest on record. This, in addition to the haze, means that Singaporeans are beginning to recognize the fact that climate change is not some abstract concept which affects those in faraway lands, but is instead a worrying phenomenon with tangible effects here in Singapore. This environmental consciousness has manifested itself in a locally-based environmental movement, which demands change from the Singaporean government in the way it responds to the environmental issues of our time. This is all against the backdrop of climate protests globally, with influential youth activists such as Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunberg, and Leah Namugerwa finally being passed the microphone to demand climate justice.
When one considers all this, green lunches seem to be an extremely reasonable step to minimize our contribution to the climate catastrophe, in which we all play a role. Our individual choices and actions, while seemingly meaningless, are collectively powerful. Indeed, there are much larger factors contributing to climate change both locally and internationally, and it is important to question the role of institutions in engaging in environmental degradation, but as members of a forward-thinking institution, we must put into practice our beliefs and commit to green lunches fully.
All around the world, students like us are taking time out of their schools, colleges, and universities to demand definitive action from their governments, and while half of our student population is unable to engage in this type of activism as we are not citizens or permanent residents of Singapore, it is our responsibility to take action in every way we can — after all, how can we ask governments to take drastic and expensive measures to reduce the country’s environmental impact when we can’t even take an action as drastic as eating vegetable curry?
I’d also like to comment on the frequency and application of green lunches. Firstly, we need to question why we only implement the policy in a single dining hall. Should the meal not be made standard across all dining halls as a demonstration of solidarity with climate protesters? And for those of us who think the vegetarian food is not good, I’m sure the vegetarians and vegans are happy that we’ve realized this, and maybe we will try harder to improve the quality of plant-based food in the dining halls if we have to eat it ourselves.
Two out of 19 meat-free meals a week does not do much to stop a climate crisis in a school that wastes 2.1 tons of perfectly edible food monthly. If we wish to actually make a tangible difference, we need to extensively embrace vegetarian food. This necessarily entails the expansion of vegetarian meals. For example, making the decision to stop serving meat options at breakfast would be a huge step in the right direction. It’s not likely that many of us used to eat meat for breakfast before coming to Yale-NUS, and I would argue that the marginal benefit from the meats served at breakfast is minimal.
Green lunches are important in that they raise critical questions about the type of community we are as a college, and the type of community we are aiming to become. Climate change activism and advocacy is a role we have to choose to fulfill, rather than an opinion that we hold, and it therefore follows that we have to repeatedly make active choices to commit to solving the climate crisis. Essentially, if we wish to make our college future-proof, green lunches are a good step in the right direction.