Real Food Calculator Food Procurement Assessment

Executive Summary:

The UW Real Food Challenge (RFC) is a registered student organization (RSO) seeking the involvement of the University community to increase the volume of locally and responsibly sourced foods available for sale in campus dining and retail facilities. The Real Food Challenge is also the name of national organization that is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit. The University of Washington student group is a concordant body of this organization.

To effectively bring about change in the campus food system and to recognize where each university stands in regards to how much “real food” (ecologically-sound, locally based, fair, and humane food) it provides to its consumers, the Real Food Challenge has developed a web application called the Real Food Calculator. Universities and businesses may use this utility to gauge the percentage of real food they procure.

The students of RFC at UW are using the Calculator utility this academic quarter to assess the amount of real food that HFS purchased during the months of January and February 2013. This amount will be quantified as a percentage of the annual food procurement budget. We are requesting a grant of $3000 to fund future Calculator work after the completion of the spring project. To be explicit, this grant would support the Calculator project of 2014, ensuring its endurance as an annual assessment. The Calculator is an entirely student-driven project that relies on the support of HFS Vending Manager Micheal Meyering. Extensive outreach and educational efforts are required to engage the student population in the immediate campus food system, and we believe this grant and responsible spending will allow us to have a larger presence and impact on campus.

Using the results of the Calculator audit we are conducting this spring, we can provide an analysis of where UW stands in the greater national food system. If our Calculating work is continued as an annual institutional assessment, the progress reflected in the results can be charted and used by the University not only to improve its own food procurement standard, but the national standard as well. We intend to formalize the results of the Calculator and use them to propose the Campus Commitment. The commitment is a food sustainability policy that commits institutions of higher education to an increase in real food procurement.

*We would like to make a comment about the budget break-down in the subsequent section. The needs of promoting the project and food sustainability activism over the course of the next academic year are to be determined. The enclosed budget assumes a default "Quantity" of 1 for every "Item" for which we anticipate our funds to be used.

Student Involvement:

The Real Food Calculator audit involves students in many ways. The first is the most direct. The students will be working together on the Calculator with a member of the dining staff. This means that most of the individual product research is done by the students. This spring, we will have five students completing the audit project. As a minimum goal, we intend to double the number of student participants in this project that will be completed in the spring of 2014. The dining staff member assists in the assessment process by obtaining the product financial information we need, and to advise on and clarify data.

The next ways that students are involved in the Calculator is assisting in how the results can be effectively used. Students will be involved in raising awareness and sharing the results of the Calculator with other students and faculty on campus. This is a huge undertaking, but is necessary to make the Calculator audit worthwhile. The audit will be worthwhile when the results of the calculator educate the UW community and inspire involvement to promote a more just food system on the UW campus.

Having the Calculator finished also creates a baseline for future student involvement. Because we will have the data regarding our current level of real food, we will then have a strong base to grow and improve upon. The Calculator results will guide students to be involved in researching alternative real food options to be brought onto campus. After this research there is additional involvement in campaigning to get the food product brought to campus. The Calculator project requires a huge amount of student commitment and involvement. From the first step of starting and running the Calculator, and then following through and implementing change, students are the drivers behind this entire project.

Education & Outreach:

Real Food Challenge as a national organization holds education as a high priority and key aspect to our overall mission. Many people in our society have not been exposed to where their food comes from and how it is produced. This is a result of how complex our food system has become and the intentional non-transparency of agribusinesses that prefer not to have their practices made public knowledge. The result has been a knowledge gap between the consumer and the producer, which can lead to the consumer making decisions that could negatively affect their own health and that of the environment. The consumer has the power to make this choice, but they should at least understand the possible consequences. Real Food Challenge strives to help close that knowledge gap and help consumers make educated decisions.

Along with educating student body and staff and faculty about general food systems, we will highlight how UW fits into the national food system. And using the results of the Real Food Calculator Audit we will paint a picture of the impact UW has on the national food system through its choices in sourcing food. This way students and faculty can be educated about the overall impact of food systems in the US, and also the food system they support through their university.

Our intention is to share the results of the current Calculator assessment and educate students about the results in the fall of 2013. This will take place in the form of recruitment, tabling, public education events such as lectures and movie screenings, and various other ways in which to help stimulate discussion about university food procurement. This outreach has multiple goals. Education is the first step and very crucial. If as a club we were able to simply help bring awareness across campus regarding food system issues, we would feel very accomplished. The next goal of this outreach is to inspire students to be active in influencing the food sourcing at their own university. This can range from simply signing a petition to bring a new product to campus, or even become an RFC member and strive toward work with other students, Housing and Food Services, faculty members and administrators. We would not be able to bring about this education of the immediate food system at UW without the results of this project. The audit provides the data we need to educate effectively, exploring the progress of UW compared to other schools that are running Calculator assessments. Annual audit projects will allow us to understand the level of progress our school is making as its real food percentage changes from year to year.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Food
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
Project Longevity:

Environmental Problem:

Transparency in the food processing industry is poor and leads to a deficiency in the public awareness of which substances our foods actually contain. The Calculator assessment project may not directly influence campus energy consumption, water usage, carbon emissions, or other common examples of "green" metrics, but it affects food provider practices in the long-run. Intrinsically, the Calculator is designed as an evaluation tool to bring about change at the administrative level of universities via policy and implementation. The impact of changing food purchasing practices would be reflected over a long range of time through the economics of local, state and national food systems and the business models of food producers in our region.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Amongst institutions nationwide, university food service is a $5 billion industry (annual basis), which represents an enormous degree of purchasing power. Colleges and universities therefore have the potential to divert a sizeable amount of money from a system of conventional food manufacturing to a system that holds to principles founded upon growing, transporting and acquiring food in a more sustainable, ethical and humane way. The environmental impact of long-term sustainable food procurement efforts is quantified by the portion of the University of Washington annual food budget (which is now larger than $10 million) that is spent on foods adhering to "ecologically sound" criterion. The criteria pertaining to energy and biodiversity in the environment are defined under this category in the rigorous standard provided by the Real Food Calculator. Because the Calculator is a tool that allows for tracking institutional purchasing over time, the trend exhibited by this percentage changing from year to year will be one of the most meaningful indicators characterizing and validating the impact of our work.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $3,000
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Leadership, Skill-development Workshops10001
Publicity and Communications5001
Travel Scholarships7501
Product Research and Farm Visits2501
Days of Action5001

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total: $3,000


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Prepare and connect with regional support4-6 hours
Baseline Survey and Assessment Plan2-4 hours
Student Training 1 hour
Data Acquisition and Calculation80-160 hours (8+ weeks)
Results and Analysis1-2 weeks
Presentation and Report Writing1-2 weeks
(Total Project Length)(100-200 hours)

Project Approval Forms: