Food Day Sparks Campus Action | Civil Eats

Food Day Sparks Campus Action

Cutting Food Stamps? No GMO labeling? More ethanol subsidies? Last Farm Bill five years ago? Congress can’t get their act together, but young people can. Real food policies must start from the ground up and today on Food Day, students are making that happen.

In the fall of 2010, students at Johns Hopkins University came together under a common vision: What if they could get their university to invest its purchasing power, much larger than any of theirs individually, in building a sustainable and just food economy?

It was a powerful idea, one thousands of other students across the country united by Real Food Challenge were imagining as well. So in the spring of 2011, they dug in and began auditing their university’s food purchases for products that qualified as “real”: Sourced from farms and food producers with fair labor practices, grown within 250 miles, raised in an ecologically sound manner, and humanely raised. The result? Only seven percent real.

Determined to increase this percentage, in the fall of 2011, they gathered over 500 petition signatures in support of a real food policy and engaged in conversations with university administrators about how to make their vision a reality. After three years of building their case, their university president has agreed to officially commit Johns Hopkins to purchasing 20 percent real food by 2020.

This is Real Food Hopkins’ story. And they’re not alone.

At two other major universities–The University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Northeastern University–students also just won big campaigns to achieve sustainable and just food policy.

These three universities are all formally signing on to Real Food Challenge’s Real Food Campus Commitment, pledging to source 20 percent of their food from local, fair, sustainable, and humane farms and food businesses. Together, these institutions bring the number of signatories to 22, representing over $55 million in annual purchases devoted to “real food.” Each school will also inaugurate a new food policy committee on campus that will adopt rigorous new transparency standards regarding product origin and vendor social responsibility.

We’re announcing this today on Food Day, a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food policy–taking place in over 4,000 events across the country.

On 350 college campuses, thousands of students across the country are every day, and especially today, creating a powerful nationwide demand for investment in real food and agriculture to eventually achieve the same commitment win themselves. They are creating inter-campus and cross-country networks, increasing food sourcing transparency on campus, and building power with students and community members.

For example, students from multiple Boston-area universities–including Tufts, Northeastern, Brandeis, and Boston University–are breaking down traditional rivalries by building an inter-campus organizing network and planning multiple Food Day events to bolster each others’ campaigns for real food.

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Students involved in the new coalition at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke are hosting a Food Day Fair–part of their strategy to ensure a smooth road to be the first Commitment signatory at a public university in the Southeast. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, students are hosting a Real Food Week, including a petition drive today for the commitment. Students at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY have re-envisioned their goals: They believe their college can pledge to 30 percent real food.

Colleges and universities in the U.S. spend $5 billion on dining every year and students aim to shift $1 billion of that towards “real food.” Institutions will be pulling hundreds of millions of dollars out of conventional agriculture and factory farming and pouring it into sustainable and humane farms and food businesses. As a result, we’ll begin to see a vastly different agricultural landscape–one that truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities, and the earth. This is the mission of the Real Food Challenge.

Faced with a broken Congress and Farm Bill, students are crafting transformational policies and programs every day to address these huge issues.

Rigorous standards for what counts as real food? Check.

Unprecedented campus food chain transparency? Check.

More democratic decision-making in crafting real food policies? Check.

Investing in a real future? Check.

Today’s food system is complex.

Invest in nonprofit journalism that tells the whole story.

Three wins today. Countless wins tomorrow.

Follow students’ stories on how they’re creating a sustainable and just future, both today and everyday, through #TheRealFoodMovementIsHere on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Kate Klein is the Real Food Challenge Food Day Coordinator. Read more >

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