Campus Climate Challenge cuts corn syrup consumption in name of conservation

Emily Lin-Jones

Campus Climate Challenge challenged its members to avoid consuming any products containing high fructose corn syrup last week. The challenge was the second in a series of week-long challenges the club has planned for the spring semester.

Credit: Faith Bernstein

Weekly challenges are a new addition to the club’s program this year, partially inspired by the restructuring of the organization’s leadership last semester. Unlike some of the club’s campus-wide initiatives, the challenges are more internally directed.

“It’s not really a public thing,” said sophomore Jenni Doering, a member of the club. “I think these challenges that we’re doing are more for our club unity, and just keeping us on track and thinking about these issues and being conscious of these things outside of the weekly meeting that we have.”

High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener present in many processed foods manufactured in the United States. In recent years, it has been under attack from health advocates and environmentalists citing evidence of its harmful effect on both consumers and the environment.

“One of the big reasons is because it comes from corn, which is now a major monocrop in America, and a lot of environmentalists are upset over the fact that corn is being subsidized. The vast majority of it is sprayed with pesticides, because there’s no reason to make organic corn when you’re going to use it for high fructose corn syrup,” said Doering.

Monocropping, the practice of cultivating a single type of crop on the same land over a long period of time, has long been the bane of environmental advocates, due to its damaging effect on soil ecology and sustainability. Additionally, excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

The list of corn-syrup-heavy foods to avoid includes soda, yogurt, cereals, breads and ketchup. Junior Natalie Jamerson, another member of the club participating in the challenge, noted that certain processed foods are the main culprits of high fructose corn syrup in most diets.

“As a vegan who relies heavily on veggies, beans and the like, I don’t frequently encounter high fructose corn syrup in what I choose to cook for myself,” she said. “But smaller things like cereals and condiments can sneak in under the radar, so it’s important to be watchful for that.”

Doering observed that the homemade salad dressings and sauces in the dining hall could make life easier for those challenge participants on a meal plan.

“Mostly it’s in processed food, and we don’t have much processed food––which is really lucky––in the dining hall,” she said.

Roger Edens, general manager of Bon Appétit at Whitman, confirmed that dining halls try to avoid providing students with corn-syrup-rich products.

Credit: Faith Bernstein

“We are no fan of high fructose corn syrup and periodically look through our shelves to see what might have crept in. Since we cook almost everything from scratch, it is fairly easy for us to look at what is left,” he said in an email. “[If] we find things that contain high fructose corn syrup, we trade them for a product that doesn’t, if we can.”

The preceding challenge encouraged members not to use plastic or paper cups for a week, while the following challenge for next week asks members to limit their power usage.

“[Club] members are actively pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle, so it is equally valuable to make decisions about how we choose to act and what we choose to eat,” said Jamerson. “Having a personal goal for the week brings us closer together and reminds us to be constantly vigilant environmental stewards.”