On Monday, Feb. 16, the Real Food Challenge group held their first informational meeting. Real Food Challenge is a national organization that aims to transition college campuses to food sources that are sustainable, fair trade, local, organic, ecologically friendly, and humane to animals.
Real Food Challenge’s presence at the University began in 2012 under the umbrella of WesFRESH, a group of students who worked toward the switch to “real food.” Last year, this group split off in order to handle the administrative aspects of the project, while WesFRESH continues to concentrate on event planning and activities.
Claudia Flores ’16, Alex Fireman ’16, and Rachel Eisman ’16 began working last year and have since recruited Savannah Morehouse ’16 and Emma Sherman ’17 as they continue their efforts to establish real food sources at the University.
“There have been a lot of really dedicated students who put in a lot of time and effort before us to get us to the point where we are now,” Eisman said. “The biggest challenge has been keeping the club’s momentum going as students graduate or study abroad, which is why we’re focusing on recruiting underclassman members and on establishing a committee with faculty and staff.”
In 2012, the group and Bon Appetit signed the Real Food Challenge’s campus commitment, a non-binding contract that establishes good will between the dining hall and students. Campus commitment ensures that the dining hall will be transparent about their purchases and cooperative with student input and opinion. This contract allows the group to work together with Bon Appetit to create long-term plans for the switch to real food.
“Our mission as the Wesleyan Real Food chapter is to look at all the purchases in Usdan right now and see how much of it is currently real food,” Fireman said. “Then we can figure out how to change more of it for the future.”
Last year, the Real Food Challenge group combed through invoices by month from each semester and discovered through an online calculator on the Real Food Challenge’s website that only 15 percent of the food we eat at the University is what they consider “real food.” This percentage is somewhat close to their goal of 20 percent real food by 2020. Since this lies slightly under the standard that the Real Food Challenge sets, and the group’s goal is to bridge that gap in quality.
The national organization also abides by the goal of 20 percent. Their website describes this amount as $1 billion of college campus budgets, which they hope to switch to expenditures on real ingredients instead of industrially produced ones by 2020. Not only has the University’s version adapted the same percentage goal on our own campus, but they have also set a goal for this semester of making at least one product switch in Usdan.
The group hopes that the switch will be away from Tyson Foods, the company that currently supplies chicken to Bon Appetit, as the members do not consider this “real food.” Their plan to accomplish this change includes looking at Bon Appetit’s contracts with Tyson. Using this information, as well as the data they collected last year during their research on prices, they will then search for a real food vendor that can match Tyson’s prices.
“It’s essentially about changing little things that can make a big impact,” Flores said.
Another goal of the group is to establish a paid internship position with Bon Appetit that will enable an official one-on-one communication with the providers of our food. They have had some informal meetings with Michael Strumpf, the Resident District Manager of Bon Appetit, which they are hoping to transition into more formal conversations about future goals.
“The idea is to empower students to know they can have a say as to what is in their dining hall and where it’s coming from,” Fireman said.
The Real Food Challenge national organization also aids the group from a distance by providing regional advisors and also holding strategy retreats where participating schools in the same area can communicate with each other. Other schools involved include University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of California Santa Cruz, and Oberlin College.
“I was on a trip over the summer and a girl from Northwestern actually approached me and said, ‘You run the Real Food Challenge at Wesleyan!’ She was so excited,” Fireman said.
During the info meeting, the group welcomed new members, explained to them what exactly the Real Food Challenge is, and discussed short-term plans to accomplish their more general goals.
“This is a collaborative process with Bon Appetit,” Eisman said. “They have great company goals and we just want to be involved in the process of choosing suppliers and incorporate the Real Food language into our decisions.”