More than 40,000 college students on 286 campuses in 46 states joined with Real Food Challenge to participate in Food Day on October 24. At Williams College in Williamstown, MA, students organized a week of events and activities that included a potluck, a food and craft fair and a lecture on eradicating invasive weed species by eating them. At UC Santa Cruz, students were served 100% local and organic fare in their dining halls. At Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, students watched the premiere of the film series Food MythBusters (learn more about it here) with guest appearance by film co-creator Anna Lappe.
Real Food Challenge (RFC) is a national student organization that “mobilizes students and campus stakeholders to shift college and university food spending to local, fair, ecological and humane food sources.” With colleges and universities spending $5 billion on food every year to feed 17 million young people, students are in a position to catalyze change in our food system. “While Farm Bill reform languishes in Congressional gridlock,” writes David Schwartz, Campaign Director at Real Food Challenge, “students and other university leaders are already transforming their institutions and supply chains here and now.”
To date, Real Food Challenge has shifted $48.5 million in institutional spending to “real food.” On Food Day at Macalester College, students celebrated their success in becoming the 8th school in the nation to make the pledge to The Real Food Campus Commitment, which involves the following:
1. Committing to expanding procurement of “real food” so that it comprises at least 20% of campus food purchases by 2020
2. Committing to assessing food procurement and compiling the results in an annual progress report
3. Committing to developing and implementing an official real food policy and multi-year action plan
So what qualifies as “real food,” according to Real Food Challenge? It’s food that’s local, fair, ecological and/or humane, as assessed by the Real Food Calculator and Guide, which was developed by RFC and is something like the Consumer Reports Greener Choices Eco-labels Center that grades foods based on the claims made on labels.
In RFC’s Real Food Guide, real foods get the “Green Light,” foods for which more research has to be done before making a determination get the “Yellow Light” and “Red Light” foods include those that are produced by conventional farming practices, those made with ingredients that may be bad for health and those that make unverifiable claims like “natural.”
The “growing tide of student activism may in fact be the quickest way to create a healthier food system,” said RFC’s Schwartz. “If students are successful in their ‘real food’ efforts, this could mean new opportunities for tens of thousands of small farms and food businesses — radically shifting the U.S. food landscape.”
Are you an advocate for real food? Do you know any college students? Refer them to Real Food Challenge. Encourage them to get involved, maybe even start a movement on campus. Anything they do can help to expedite change in the way Americans eat and the way our food is produced.
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