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Western introduces climate-friendly meal choices via Cool Food Meal Badges

These badges have begun to appear on meals in the Viking, Fairhaven and Ridgeway dining commons, urging students to choose sustainable meal options

An example of a "Cool Food Meal" marker on a self-serving pot at the Viking Commons in Bellingham, Wash. on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. The signifier indicates that the meal is more climate friendly. // Courtesy of Rhode Long

Beginning Jan. 18, Western Washington University’s dining services introduced climate-friendly meal choices through the World Resources Institute’s ‘Cool Food Badges.’

To be deemed a Cool Food Meal, the food must fall below a predetermined carbon footprint and meet a nutritional safeguard. 

“The WRI measured the carbon footprint of hundreds of Aramark recipes to identify items that meet the Cool Foods criteria, based on all the ingredients and land required to produce the meal,” said Aramark’s resident district manager, Stephen Wadsworth. “Entrees that fall below an established carbon footprint threshold receive the Cool Food Meals badge.”

Since Aramark began rolling out these badges, many students have noticed and have been encouraged to choose a planet-friendly option as opposed to their normal meal choices. 

“To date, we have received great feedback in person and on social media,” Wadsworth said. “We have seen quite an interest in these meals in our dining halls.”

This interest, while helping the planet, may be encouraging more students to try vegetarian options. Many Cool Food Meals are vegetarian since the carbon footprint is much higher when a meal contains meat. 

“If I don’t go to the dining hall right at five, the vegetarian meal options are out,” said second-year Western student, Rhode Long. “Now I’m wondering if it’s because people are going for those. Maybe people like them.” 

Lindsey MacDonald, the associate director of the Sustainability Engagement Institute, expressed the need for Western’s dining services to include a wide variety of vegetarian options on their menus. 

“The carbon emissions associated with eating animals is just way higher than eating other protein sources like beans and tofu,” she said. “So I’m thinking about the ways we can provide education and make it more convenient to pick vegetarian options.”

MacDonald explained that there have been several studies that discuss the benefits of making vegetarian meals the default option on menus. 

“If you make vegetarianism the default but don’t take away meat entirely, people can opt in for whatever meat options they want,” she said. “We don’t want to make people mad and it’s their choice, but a lot of people will be excited about good vegetarian options.”

MacDonald is also part of the team that works on Western’s Sustainability Action Plan. According to the Sustainability Engagement Institute's website, this plan is the university’s road map for protecting local and global ecology, upholding social equity, creating economic vitality, and maintaining human health. 

“I think that with the complicated nature of food systems and sustainability, we can make it easier for people with these badges and education,” MacDonald said. “I think there’s always more work that can be done on that front.”

Wadsworth also emphasized the dining services and Aramark’s commitment to supporting sustainable solutions. 

“Western Washington University understands that sustainable solutions to large problems like climate change must be sensitive to a variety of community-based concerns,” he said. “The Cool Food Menus program allows students to be empowered when making decisions in our dining locations, and to be reassured that our menus have been analyzed by an outside organization for their environmental impact.”

To learn more about Cool Food Meals, visit the WRI’s “Cool Food” page or Aramark’s “About Us” page

Isabella Loy

Isabella Loy (she/her) is one of two copy editors for The Front this quarter. She's a fourth-year transfer student majoring in news/ed journalism with a concentration in Religious Studies. She has also worked on publications at her community college and at Western's magazine, Klipsun. You can reach her at 

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