Allegheny Senior Shares Evidence About Making Planet-Friendly Choices in Diet

Allegheny College senior Margo Beck wants to help members of her generation make informed decisions about how they eat — and how those choices impact not only their health but also the Earth.

Allegheny senior Margo Beck will be working in a food security position after graduation in May 2021.
Allegheny senior Margo Beck will be working in a food security position after graduation in May 2021.

The environmental science and sustainability major has focused her Senior Comprehensive Project on a diet based on her Armenian heritage, drawing on many of her family’s recipes. It also incorporates healthful and savory aspects of the Mediterranean diet. Beck’s Senior Comp compares the price, carbon footprint, and water footprint of each family recipe to a McDonald’s Big Mac to illustrate how homemade dishes can be seen as more affordable and sustainable dining options.

“I am targeting members of Generation Z who are beginning to live on their own and make food choices independent of parental influence,” said Beck, who is from McLean, Virginia. “My generation is generally concerned about the environment, but quite frankly we don’t have much money at all. By being presented these recipes, hopefully people will recognize that it is possible to afford to eat sustainably.”

For example, Beck’s research shows that one serving of a Big Mac costs $3.99. Compare that with 72 cents per serving of red lentil kofte, 54 cents for lemon egg soup, and 34 cents for bulgur pilaf.

According to Beck’s study, the Big Mac has a carbon footprint of 7.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions compared to less than a pound of emissions for the home-cooked meals. The Big Mac requires 202 gallons of water in its production as opposed to 101 gallons for the red lentil kofte, 24 gallons for the lemon egg soup, and 28 gallons for the bulgur pilaf.

Her Senior Comp is titled “Konialian’s Kitchen: Sustainable Meals for your Wallet and the Planet.” “Konialian is my mother’s maiden name,” Beck explained. “I felt that it was important to have Konialian in the title of my Comp because this project is truly dedicated to the maternal side of my family, as they were the ones who passed down the recipes.”

As part of her Senior Comp, Beck wrote an academic paper and developed a companion website that provides an overview of the project and shares her family recipes with others.

“Margo has used her Allegheny education to the fullest,” said Eric Pallant, the Christine Scott Nelson Endowed Chair of the Environmental Science and Sustainability Department. “You wouldn’t think that a compilation of recipes would make a Senior Comp, but look at her website and you will see all of the attributes of a liberal arts education on full display: history, mathematics, culture, communications, environment, economics, and chemistry all applied toward making the world a better place.”

After graduation, Beck, who is a global health studies minor, will be serving with AmeriCorps VISTA at the CAC Beardsley Community Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. Beardsley is a four-acre farm that promotes food security and sustainable urban agriculture through practice, education, and community outreach.

The VISTA project at Beardsley focuses on increasing awareness of the farm’s programs and benefits. Beardsley works in conjunction with CAC Mobile Meals Kitchen, which provides lunchtime meals to Knoxville and Knox County citizens who are at least 60 years old and cannot cook for themselves and have no one to prepare meals for them.

“The real appeal to this position was that it also requires me to work on the farm at least one day of the week harvesting and packaging produce,” Beck said. “Most other VISTA positions do not include this hands-on component, which I was really looking for.”

That’s not surprising because Beck’s favorite spot on campus has been the Carrden, the organic garden near Carr Hall. “I always loved the Carrden, but it really turned into my go-to spot during my last semester on campus,” said Beck, who is studying remotely during her final semester. “It was right outside of my room in Walker, so it was easy just to take my food or schoolwork with me and sit in the Carrden.”

Beck has played the viola in the Civic Symphony every semester and was a part of the Select Strings ensembles in both semesters during her first and sophomore years. She has also been a resident advisor.

While Beck is undecided about exactly where her career path will lead, she nonetheless has a clear goal.

“I’m not really sure where I want my career to take me, but I know that no matter what I do, it has to be something that has a visible and lasting impact on people and communities,” she said. “I need to be able to see that my work benefits people in some capacity.”