Food for Thought

Nearly 200 people from across Cambridge and beyond gathered at Homerton recently for an innovative event combining ‘food for thought’ with the more tangible and edible kind, with the help of Homerton’s catering department.

On 6 May, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) presented the latest research on how human food consumption affects biodiversity – followed by a grand ‘Green Formal Hall’ in Homerton’s Great Hall, designed explicitly to illustrate low-impact food consumption.

Dr Ben Phalan (Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology) presented on how high-intensity land cultivation is harming the planet, through habitat loss, water abstraction, and the production of pollutants and greenhouse gases. Dr Chris Sandbrook (Department of Geography and UNEP-WCMC) focused on how individual actions can influence the demand that creates these malign effects. Suggested measures included minimising waste (“eat what you buy”!), eating fewer meat and dairy products, which are inefficient in terms of resource use, and “embracing odd-shaped vegetables”.

Photo: Green formal dinner in the Great Hall, Homerton College.

Green formal hall.  Photo credit: Luciana Leite

The Green Formal Hall which followed illustrated how to do it. Homerton’s catering department had prepared a delicious menu of mainly vegan and vegetarian meals, with an option of low carbon meat. All ingredients were locally sourced. The tables were decorated to represent a different ecosystem: polar, savannah, rainforest and ocean. Colourful tablecloths, flowers from Homerton’s wonderful gardens, and scavenged seashells with candles added to the festive atmosphere. Each seat had a placemarker with pictures of threatened species and habitats, and tips on how to contribute to safeguarding species by changing daily habits.

The event was organized by Luciana Leite, a graduate student at Homerton on the MPhil in Conversation Leadership, based in the Department of Geography.

“The course is very much hands-on, and teaches us to address real conservation issues of our time”,

said Luciana, a professional environmentalist from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. She sees Homerton as a resource which extends her conservation studies:

“Homerton has the largest single-site campus of all the Colleges. The green area, wildlife-friendly gardens and biodiversity found on our own site suit me perfectly. And being slightly away from the city centre brings me peace and mindfulness: a necessary detachment from the buzz of everyday life in Cambridge. It provides me with the chance to be connected with nature - reading a book outdoors at the back of Harrison House, or feeding a duck and its six ducklings around Homerton's duck pond.”

Photo: Homerton duck pond

Homerton duck pond.  Photo credit: Dr Ben Phalan


MPhil in Conservation Leadership 
Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology 
Dr Ben Phalan 
Dr Chris Sandbrook