Happy Earth Day!
This annual holiday, first celebrated in 1970, makes environmental challenges visible and moves them to the forefront of our local, state, regional, and national discourse surrounding environmental protection. Thanks to the WPI Sustainability Task Force, the efforts of faculty, staff, and students to reduce harmful environmental impacts and enhance long-term sustainability are reflected campus-wide. But what about the lesser-known attempts to make WPI as sustainable as possible? In honor of Earth Day, let’s dive into the Archives and discover more about the history of sustainability on campus.
WPI Food Co-op
In the early 1980’s, food co-ops began popping up in major cities across the country due to an increase in families unable to eat well while sticking to a budget and, in December of 1980, two students founded the WPI Food Co-op as part of their IQP. Although the WPI Food Co-op was born a decade later, this movement in food sustainability began in the early 1970’s. Students, consumer activists, and other demonstrators protested across America on May 5, 1973, an event deemed National Day of Protest Against High Food Prices.
So, why did two WPI students decide to start a food co-op?
As outlined in the organization’s bylaws, the purpose of the WPI Food Co-op was:
- To provide reasonably priced and nutritious food to the WPI community
- To provide education concerning health and the nature of cooperatives to the WPI community
- To provide mutual service and assistance to members of the WPI community which is consistent with the foregoing purposes
Okay. Then how did the WPI Food Co-op work, exactly?
A small, one-time membership fee and a weekly fee of $10 for food orders is all it took to be a member of the WPI Food Co-op. Pretty simple!
Co-op members got together on alternating Thursdays to order food from the New England Food Cooperative Organization. The food was then transported from Boston to Worcester, where members would receive the order. Other members would then come to the WPI Commuters’ Room and “work” with the food. Examples of these kinds of work activities included slicing cheese, bagging tofu, and weighing bananas. Once the work was complete, members would arrive to pick up their orders, pay, and leave.
Outside of providing WPI with an inexpensive and convenient way to purchase healthy food, the WPI Food Co-op also hosted events, such as pot luck dinners. Organizers felt that these types of events exemplified the true spirit of a food co-op by encouraging members to gather and enjoy meals together.
Organizers also got members involved by sending out newsletters. These publications included important announcements such as elections for officers and dates for conferences. But that’s not all: the editors also included delicious, plant-based recipes for members to try at home:
The WPI Food Co-op’s spirit of promoting healthful, affordable, and sustainable eating lived on through the next student organization, the Vegetarian Society.
In the early 1990’s, the WPI Vegetarian Society began with a very simple mission: for WPI students, staff, and faculty whom maintain a vegetarian diet to socialize and share meals. However, this student-lead group soon began transcending that mission and taking on larger sustainability issues on campus. Tired of resorting to eating a grilled cheese or egg salad sandwich, the Vegetarian Society (better known as “The Veggies”) decided to take action. In 1994, WPI began offering more vegetarian food options. Each Thursday at lunch, The Grille would feature a recipe submitted by The Veggies. The Veggies also collected donations for those experiencing homelessness in Worcester which, at the time, neared 4,000 people. The homeless shelters were rarely stocked with vegetarian meal choices, so The Veggies began collecting non-perishable food items, like peanut butter, to provide residents with sustenance.
Neither of these organizations still exist on campus but should be remembered for their success in achieving food sustainability at WPI. Innovation often requires thinking outside of the box, which is exactly what these two organizations did when challenged with issues related to food consumption. Keeping with WPI tradition, the WPI Food Co-op and Vegetarian Society were dedicated to the notion that an improved quality of life through sustainability should be a top priority for college campuses.
Historical content shared in this blog post and other resources can be found in Curation, Preservation, and Archives, Gordon Library. For more information, please visit the Fellman Dickens Reading Room on the Ground Level or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.