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Westminster professor Christy Clay describes food systems, climate change in local communities

“I think some really important things for students to understand — and this is where the nexus of the issue of drought and climate change come to be — our food system is inherently dependent on water,” Clay said. 

The Forum sat down with Christy Clay, biology and environmental studies professor at Westminster College, to gain insight into connections between food systems and climate change in Utah, and what it could entail for students. 

Clay said meat is the primary agricultural product of Utah. The meat process is water-intensive — something that can be hard to grapple with in a state where drought is a problem, according to Clay.

“I think we’re going to have conversations here in the state [and] in the city, about what our values are, right?” Clay said. “Should everyone have some basic allocation of water that they need to survive, and then what are we spending it on otherwise?” 

Clay said students play an important role in advocating for change in community food systems. 

“Food just happens to present problems of justice, problems of equity, problems of health [and] problems of the environment, and there are solutions for all of those things,” Clay said.

Clay said the Environmental Center is a good way to get involved in making a difference on campus. She said students may advocate for change when contract negotiations open up with Westminster’s food service provider, Bon Appetit.

“That doesn’t change the food systems outside of campus,” Clay said. “But it’s where students have immediate political power.” 

Another campus program that improves local food systems is the Purple Basket, according to the Westminster website. The Purple Basket helps address food insecurity on campus, relying partly on the Organic Garden to provide local, sustainably-grown produce for those facing food insecurity. The Purple Basket is located on the lower level of Carleson Hall, and can be accessed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If students are looking to make a difference with food systems in their community, the slc.gov sustainability page lists a host of ways that citizens can make their food systems more localized and sustainable. 

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Keely Carolan is a junior communication major from Seattle, Washington. When she isn’t studying, you’ll probably find her climbing, coaching kids at a local climbing gym, or setting routes at the school’s climbing wall. Keely hopes to one day intertwine her passion for climbing and journalism into an enjoyable career.

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