When David Schwartz, co-founder of the Real Food Challenge recently contacted me to let me know that he’d been named a finalist for the 2011 DoSomething Awards, I thought it would be worth giving him a second look. I wrote about the Real Food Challenge in January, and it’s exciting to see small, ambitious upstarts with real, sustainable ideas for change as they take root and begin to burgeon. DoSomething, a non-profit that encourages young people 25 and under to engage in social change, will grant the winner with $100,000 for his or her cause on August 18th during the DoSomething Awards broadcast on VH1.
The Real Food Challenge aims to shift 20% — or about $1 billion — of college and university food purchases to local, sustainable, humane and fair trade sources by the year 2020. American colleges and universities spend about $4.7 billion in on dining each year — so that’s a lot of purchasing power.
Schwartz and his co-founder Anim Steel, are challenging students to harness that power and redirect it to real food — food that’s ethically produced and sustainable, local, fair trade, and organic. Some 4,000 students at 300 schools across the country have already signed on.
“To date we’ve gotten $35 million of annual university food committed to purchasing to local, sustainable and fair food,” Schwartz told me in his update.
When I originally asked Schwartz why he decided to focus on college campuses, he spoke from experience. “I was one of those students myself. I was an undergraduate as we were starting the Real Food Challenge,” he said.
“For anyone who is worried about what’s going on with our food system, it’s hard not to be compelled when you’re looking at diabetes, obesity and diet-related disease skyrocketing and especially prevalent in low income communities and communities of color, when you look at the loss of farmland and the consolidation of farms. There’s a consciousness on college campuses around these issues,” said Schwartz, who graduated from Brown University in 2009 and now travels the country training students and expanding the Real Food Challenge’s student network.
“In 2010-2011 school year we trained over 1,600 in how to take action for real food on their campus and in their community.” Schwartz also recently told me.
Also new: the Real Food Challenge is helping launch the first ever Food Day on October 24th, 2011. Sixty campuses have signed on in the last 3 weeks. They’re also launching their new GET REAL! Campaign this Fall — an effort to get every college and university president in the country to commit to real food — via a special network top student activists through their Grassroots Leaders Project.
“The power we have as students is profound. We’re not just learners, we’re engaged citizens and leaders,” Schwartz believes. “We can be so much more powerful if we act together, if we have a common language, a common platform.”
Take a look at the Real Food Challenge’s new video to see what the organization has been up to:
Photo courtesy of The Real Food Challenge