Students at 216 campuses in 46 states and five countries are asking their campuses for healthier and sustainable foods.
The student groups are a part of a national movement called The Real Food Challenge, which hopes to convince universities to start serving more organic, locally grown foods and stop serving from industrial farms.
The Real Food Challenge said it’s after “real food” — foods that are locally-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane. By 2020, the national organization wants $1 billion of university food budgets to be spent on real foods. The campaign has already made a $35 million dent in that goal since the Real Food Challenge started in 2008. According to David Schwartz, campaign coordinator of the Real Food Campaign, the initiative has given students across the nation a united voice, which makes the campaign even more powerful.
“We want universities to listen to students and to demonstrate real leadership when it comes to building a real food economy,” Schwartz said.
The movement is meant to start discussions about where our nation’s food is coming from. Three major national food distributors — ARAMARK, Sodexo Inc. and Compass Group — partner with about 87 percent of U.S. universities and colleges dining services that contract food services, said David Schwartz, campaign coordinator of the Real Food Campaign.
“On a national level, [large food distributors] have not stepped up to the level of commitment we have asked for,” Schwartz said. “Overall, we are excited to partner with the food service companies. When students speak up and the food service companies listen, we can do incredible things.”
In a statement earlier this month, Christopher Stemen, ARAMARK’s associate vice president of sustainability said, “we are committed to partnering with our clients to develop and implement innovative programs and initiatives that help them reach their sustainability goals.”
To celebrate the movement and spread awareness about obesity and sustainable farming, colleges will participate in Food Day on Oct. 24.
Many universities will host food-making competitions and screen movies about the food industry, — like Food Inc. and Fresh. Duke University in Durham, NC, is having a no meat day to raise awareness about the impact meat has on CO2 emissions.
On Food Day, the Real Food Challenge will launch the Real Food Campus Commitment, which is a pledge universities can sign and agree to use 20 percent of its food purchasing budget on real foods., as defined by the Real Food Challenge. St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., will be the first to sign the commitment. Schwartz said about two dozen other schools are in the process of signing the agreement.
To keep track of progress of dining halls, students have already taken or will take inventory of the food purchased by their university to determine whether the food is classified as real. The inventory will help the students determine what percentage of food is local, fair, humane and eco-friendly.
“We haven’t gotten any real wind yet, but our campus seems excited to work with us,” said Brett Hannan, 21, a nutrition major at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. “After Food Day, we will work toward getting the university to commit to 20 percent real food by 2020.”
Drew University offers the perfect small liberal arts atmosphere for Gina Gioldassis, but she doesn’t like the food. Gioldassis, 21, moved off campus partly because she didn’t want to eat at Drew University’s only dining hall. The university requires its students to purchase a meal plan if they live on campus.
“I had a hard time eating on campus because the food wasn’t appetizing — it didn’t taste good,” the English major said. “Salad had wilted lettuce — I couldn’t find anything that was fresh and healthy.”
Even though the junior doesn’t plan on eating at the dining hall again, she hopes the food will improve for future students. Gioldassis joined the Students for Sustainable Food club at Drew University to participate in the Real Food Challenge.
“What we are doing is working to redefine the college food system to focus not on quantity of cheap items, but the quality of a food culture on campus that values student health and social consciousness,” said Cait Kennedy, 20, an environmental science and Spanish major, who is also working taking part in the food movement at Drew University.
Mohamud Omar, 27, a refugee from Somalia and a sophomore agriculture major at Eastern Washington University, was inspired to join the Real Food Challenge because he saw a need for local and fresh foods in his home country as well is on campus.
Now, by using the food calculator, Omar’s student-led organization, the Eastern Washington University Sustainability Project, found that only nine percent of foods served in dining halls at their university are local, fair, ecologically sound and humane. The sustainability project is working to educate their university and peers about sustainable agriculture and social justice, including fair wages for farmers and workers providing food. On Food Day, Omar will lead tours around the school’s community garden.
“Young people come to gain knowledge at universities and I think the university should be obligated to educate the next generation about healthy food,” Omar said. “Students deserve to know about healthy ecologically food.”
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