Crossing the Finish Line

This post is less about my internship, and more about me.

These last two years have been amazing…

I moved to Florida from Omaha, NE, began renting my first apartment, SHARED A BANK ACCOUNT WITH SOMEONE.

Also, I started grad school, got an adult job, wrecked a car, bought my first new car, got engaged, got married (along with attending several other weddings along the way), experienced what it’s like to get my car impounded (after returning home from getting married), bought a house, got promoted (several times at aforementioned adult job), bought my first lawn mower, broke my first lawn mower, completed my internship, and went on several much-needed vacations.

I am now awaiting the arrival of my first child, and I could not be happier. Nor could I feel more fulfilled. Life is awesome.

I know there are many others who have accomplished tons of different things during their grad school terms, and I hope you all take the time to celebrate the culmination of your losses, gains, growing pains, silver linings, crown achievements, scraped knees and everything else dotted between.

A wonderful year to you all.

You did it, dude.

– Zach

A Day at The South Carolina Aquarium

The South Carolina Aquarium sits on the edge of the historic, brick-laden city of Charleston. The modern structure accents the coastline with clean lines mixing into bright blue sky.

My walk to the aquarium from the parking garage is riddled with remorse…as I realize…wearing skinny jeans in 100% humidity was not the best decision, and I hope to make it into air conditioning before I break a sweat.

As it turns out, I have arrived early…and will have to embrace the heat and appreciate any small breeze that offers some relief.

As soon as my body has adjusted to Charleston’s steamy demeanor, I get a text saying I can get my visitor’s badge and come inside.

I am greeted by my external supervisor, beaming from ear to ear, as I believe she always is. We walk inside and the A/C sends a message to my jeans, “You’re safe in here, dude.”

The aquarium is buzzing with parents, children, teens, young adults and volunteers excited to “Ooooo” and “Ahhhh” at all the exhibits and snap some pictures for their Instagram accounts. #southcarolinaaquarium

I am then introduced to various staff, and learn about all the wonderful things the aquarium does to benefit sea life and the general populace. I walk through the sea turtle hospital and see all the rescues acclimating to their tanks. Healing from injury. There are some turtles lapping their tanks with a lax attitude, and some that sit still, and seem anxious.

We walk through the food prep area where a volunteer has begun prepping meals for all the aquarium’s inhabitants, and catch a scent of the ocean as the door closes.

In a small room in the basement my external supervisor gives a presentation on their Good Catch program, and we discuss all the complexities of fishing and what we can do to hold restaurants accountable – ranging from asking your server about where they get their fish, to environmental policy change and fish reproduction rates.

After, we visit one of the Good Catch restaurant partners and eat lunch. Our server rattles off several facts about how they choose their fish and change the menu frequently to ensure they keep up with what is in season. It is exciting to see the program’s efforts in action and see how excited their partners are to advocate for the cause.

Safe weekends, everyone.

– Zach

Making Connections

Over the course of these past weeks, I have had the pleasure to meet with several business owners, distributors, chefs, and industry professionals. These have been some of the most encouraging conversations I have had throughout my entire time at USF.

One of my favorite conversations took place just this last week when the general manager of one of my case study restaurants gave me a call on my lunch break.

We spent nearly an hour discussing their commitment to sustainability, and how it is essential to their business. This is not only because they are cutting costs, but also, they are preserving the area they depend on to attract repeat customers. This business lives and breathes sustainability. He made it known that this was not just some marketing buzzword they like to slap on their website. And their staff is really excited to tell you about it.

It is really nice to step outside the classroom, and see people in our backyard so committed to the changes we are championing.

Hope everyone’s summer is going well!

– Zach

Stepping Down from the Soapbox

A few weeks into the thick of my intership with the South Carolina Aquarium, my research has morphed from focusing on the profit margins of restaurants and transitioning to sustainable seafood, to the ethics of marketing and what to consider when switching from conventional to sustainable.

It all started with a question my external supervisor poses to me when we were evaluating a menu. The restaurant boasted, “Our menus feature all fresh, local seafood…” To which my supervisor queried “If all their seafood is sourced locally, why don’t they showcase that?”

In and outside of class, I have witnessed many of my grad student peers fall victim to this desire to force feed their sustainable knowledge to bystanders tossing plastic in the trash, grocery patrons eying conventional produce, and drivers of SUVs (myself included). While all this is well-intended, it can easily come off as pretentious, and make the lecturer look self-important. High on their pedestal, publicly shaming their glassy-eyed subordinates. And where does this lead us? To defiance for defiance sake.

Let’s go back to the original question, “If all their seafood is sourced locally, why don’t they showcase that?”
As a marketer, consumer behavior is of my utmost interest. While some like to believe consumer behavior is predictable and easily influenced (which it can be…) it is also very often fickle and erratic. Some consumers, no matter how hard you try to educate, will choose to consume things that they know are harmful…simply because they choosing not to buy “insert thing” groups them with those who pompously lecture against consuming this thing (cigarettes are a prime example…or the opposite, vegetarian food).

So, the answer to my supervisor’s question could be to take a look at the demographic. What kind of consumer patrons this restaurant? Would they be turned off if it seems “eco-friendly, green, or environmental?” Maybe the restaurant does good under the radar, as the to not detour customers? Or, maybe they make false claims? OR, maybe there are other pieces of the business that are not so sustainable, and to highlight the one thing they do responsibly would be green washing, running a risk of being exposed?

To my sustainability peers, things are not black and white. Consider all variables, and asks tons of questions.

Hope everyone is having a great week!

– Zach

What is On Your Plate

Food is an interesting thing. We eat it every day. We shop for it, prepare for ourselves or our loved ones (or, stand idly by while the culinarily inclined prepare food for you). We tell others about our favorite places to get food and where to get the best bang for your buck. We take pictures of it. We write long-winded blogs about it (where we repeatedly beat the point over the head until it is seemingly unconscious…)

Food just appears, as if The Fairy of Everything Bagels and Cream Cheese Spreads waved their wand…and materialized in the gluten-free section of Trader Joe’s.

A large part of my research is looking at the ways food gets to our plates (seafood, specifically).

Our food supply chain is a series of splintered back streets converging onto mains, through tunnels, crossing oceans, soaring through clouds, and landing in our backyards with a variety of different names like local, free range, wild caught, and organic. But what do these words really mean, and how do they impact our consumption? Are we taking the time to trace our vegan sushi back to the fields where the soy beans were harvested, or considering the wages and living conditions of those who harvested the beans? Would it impact our purchasing habits if we knew? And what would it cost to ensure all parties benefited equally?

These are somewhat loftier questions than I will be able to answer during this internship, but I hope it inspires some others to dig deeper than tips of their forks when it comes to food.