About ten days ago, I had the honor of speaking on a panel called “Organic on the Green: Conversations with College Aged Consumers” at the All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show. The honor was two-fold because #1, the panel was named after the blog I started last summer, and #2, I was joined by Maisie Greenawalt, the Vice President of Bon Appétit Management Company. The purpose of the panel was to facilitate “a conversation with college-aged organic consumers” in order to allow the organic industry to hear what the younger generation looks for in organic products.
Like most college students, the only presentations I have done have been to about 25 fellow students and a professor who I hoped to impress for “the A”. Needless to say, in preparation for the panel, I had done research until I was blue in the face, practiced to anyone with two ears, and created note cards that were organized, highlighted, and color coded. However, as soon as I got up to the podium, I became aware that I was being given a unique opportunity to speak to the organic industry, the big players in this sustainable food game, for students all around the country who are passionate about this topic.
I discussed how important I consider organic to be, but how its message is being lost on the younger generation. Sustainable food is not merely a topic of interest to college students, but a lifestyle, a community, and a set of ideals to which many of us aspire. The organic industry has traditionally directed its marketing to mothers and families. But to miss out on the tremendous purchasing power and zealousness of the college student is to ignore one of the most important segments of the population in terms of sustainable food.
After the panel, as I walked around the trade show floor admiring the booths of hundreds of organic companies that had come to the show, I began thinking about how thankful I am to be a student in this particular place and at this particular time. Sure, our country has plenty of issues to work out, and as a senior in college, the job market could be better. But students in 2009 must be optimistic about the tremendous ability we have to change the course of agriculture in our country. Our purchasing power is tremendous on campuses alone, and the fact that a company like Bon Appétit Management Company exists is proof enough that we have come a long way from the dining hall that served sloppy joes and mystery meat. So, as I boarded my flight in Chicago, I smiled, thinking about what my children might say about the conventional and processed food so prevalent in our country today. My hope is that because of the work of fellow student sustainable foodies, the next generation will be saying “you really ate that?!,” with the same tone of disbelief I used when I discovered that my mother used a sun reflector and baby oil to get a tan when she was my age.
– Nina Merrill, Student Intern