The Real Food Challenge is a grassroots national movement of students working to harness the purchasing power of their academic institutions in order to transform the national food system into an equitable and just food system for all. By shifting 20% of our country’s total annual university food budget of $5 billion to “Real Food” by the year 2020, students can influence food companies to improve their practices for the sake of the planet’s ecosystems, human health, and social justice.
Real Food Challenge (RFC) at UW is a Registered Student Organization whose mission is to take an active role in affecting this positive change. We will propose the Campus Commitment food policy to University of Washington administrators during the 2013-2014 academic year. The Campus Commitment is a university and college campus food policy created and proposed by students of the Real Food Challenge to commit academic institutions to procuring “Real Food” that meets criteria in one or more of the following genres: ecologically sound, local- and community-based, humane, and/or fair. Third party certifications ensure that these criteria are sufficiently met on the basis of individual food products, or even at times, entire companies. Sufficient research of products and food producers must be conducted in order to verify these certifications; the Real Food Calculator assessment is designed specifically to accomplish this. To substantiate a student-initiated proposal of the Campus Commitment, RFC at UW will complete its second fully-fledged food procurement assessment using the Real Food Calculator Web Application. RFC at UW completed a Real Food Calculator audit in 2011 using the pilot version of the Calculator. This was a collaborative project of students and Housing and Food Services staff, and yielded a Real Food Percentage of 24%. This percentage represents, by annual budget fraction, the amount of money spent by HFS on Real Food products. As a result of its development, the Real Food Calculator has become a more rigorous research standard in the past two years. We anticipate that we will actually see a decrease to the University of Washington Real Food Percentage. It is crucial that we test this hypothesis in order for our potential for improvement to be well-defined.
The proposed project for 2013 will be a collaboration of students and dining managers involved in sustainable food procurement and will be an essential element to advancing the goals of our campaign for a formalized food policy. Environmental Impact In regards to the environmental impact of food system reform, the Real Food Calculator audit produces an indirect and long-term effect. This effect is an annual investment of up to $8.5 million (approximate UW food budget in 2011) in a national green food system. Two of the criteria that define “Real Food” are met by foods with the USDA Organic food label, and foods that are produced within 250 miles of the retail destination. Foods that are produced according to these qualities contribute less to environmental degradation. This year, Housing and Food Services made an amazing leap forward by introducing the District Market as a retail facility proximate to the residence hall community. We hypothesize that the increase in the volume of organic and local foods purchasable with resident student dining plans has led to a measurable change in how students are using their dining plans to support sustainable food procurement. The validity of this assumption will be reflected in the results of the Calculator project.
Student Leadership and Involvement
There are many facets of running the Real Food Calculator which involve student leadership and involvement. To begin with, the audit is a student-led project. The students contact dining services when they want to conduct the audit with a request of access to vendor invoices. A dining service administrator assists the students in the audit procedure by providing inviting discussion and providing guidance. The actual process of data analysis, presentation and report preparation is completed entirely by students. The research and learning opportunity presented in this project is an enormous springboard for growth and leadership development. Students develop communication and technical skills while simultaneously characterizing the campus food system. Real Food Challenge students represent the portion of the student population who want to be involved in food procurement decision-making, and are always seeking ways in which to more meaningfully engage the student body.
Education, Outreach, and Behavioral Change
Housing and Food Services students, who are required to purchase a quarterly meal plan, have little knowledge of how foods are procured for sale in campus dining and retail facilities. We also recognize there may be a sense of powerlessness among students to influence the types of foods sourced in campus facilities. One of the principal objectives of the Calculator audit is to engage the student body in the research and analysis of the UW campus food system, providing opportunity for them to generate quantitative and useable results. Utilizing the Calculator is a fundamental step in proposing a meaningful real food campus policy because it can give students, Housing and Food Services, faculty members and administrators a sense of what goals and timeline the Campus Commitment policy will need to entail. The Campus Commitment establishes a time-sensitive sustainable food procurement goal and institutes an interdisciplinary, interdepartmental Food Systems Working Group to make it happen.
Feasibility, Accountability, and Sustainability
Several students were part of the first Calculator project, and a few have returned to be leaders in this endeavor. Experienced dining staff have been eager to contribute thus far. Judging by the experience and number of students comprising our audit committee, this project realistically fits in the context of a quarter-long project.
Estimate of Project Budget
Our organization estimates a need of $2,000. This will go towards a very small stipend for the hours contributed by students needed to complete the audit. The project will consume 2-3 hours per week for 8-10 students for the entire duration of the spring 2013 academic quarter. The remaining sponsorship would be diverted into a brand new fund for the Real Food Challenge as a student organization for the purpose of longevity as our on-campus presence and degree of influence continues to grow. The principal use of funds will be used to mobilize students, with emphasis on influencing campus administrators to sign the Campus Commitment food policy.