Campus commitment to shift $1 billion on healthier food

The Real Food Challenge (RFC) is a national student campaign dedicated to creating a healthy, just and sustainable food system with a goal to shift $1 billion in institutional food spending to “real food.” California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) is one of over 262 institutions of higher learning nationwide, and one of the 12 in the 23-member California State University system that has signed the “Real Food Campus Commitment.” The commitment includes a pledge to procure at least 20 percent “real food” annually by 2020.

The challenge has already been met by the University of Vermont, “three years early, and is now setting its sights on 25 percent by 2020,” reported Mike Buzalka in the July 10, 2017 issue of Food Management Magazine. “Increasingly we’re finding businesses that understand millennials’ desire for transparency, authenticity and honesty in marketing – especially when it comes to food,” commented Anim Steel of Real Food. “To date, over 1,000 student researchers have researched over 570,000 unique food products, amounting to nearly $4 billion in campus dining purchases,” according to the Real Food Calculator Report.

Food as a category is listed on CSUMB’s website sustainability page with the following comment: “Here at CSUMB, food is integrated in our everyday lives and our commitment to being sustainable. All dining services on campus compost and recycle, creating less waste that goes in landfills. Also, local food options are served when possible to benefit health, community and the environment.”

“Real Food A​ is a food item that qualifies as real food in more than one category (e.g. meat that is local, community-based and humane),” according to the Real Food Standards report, “​Real Food B​ is a food item that qualifies as real food in only one category (e.g. produce that is only ecologically sound).” CSUMB’s 2014 Real Food performance chart was not very impressive with 1 percent qualified as Real Food A, 3 percent qualified as Real Food B and 96 percent registered as conventional food. “More recent data should be available on the CSUMB sustainability webpages in the very near future,” stated Lacey Raak, CSUMB Sustainability Director.

CSUMB had its first RFC report completed in 2016 as part of a student’s capstone project, followed by the 2017 report done by former food service provider Sodexo. Student intern, Krista Sherman, was hired in November 2018 by the new food service provider A’viands to work on the implementation and reporting of RFC progress at CSUMB. The tracking tool used by all institutions is “The Real Food Calculator.”

The most recent CSUMB RFC score is yet to be published, but some of the more visible changes include increasing vegetarian/vegan and allergen-free food options, in addition to the recent switch to organic milk. A start, but still a distance to meet the 2020 target goal. “CSUMB can do a lot more in making use of the many locally produced food sources in the community,” commented Sherman. Local produce is not as easy to obtain as one might think as there is a rigorous set of conditions to be met for a local product to be classified as “real.”

The local product must contain more than 50 percent ingredients sourced within 250 miles of a campus. Bread baked by a local bakery in Salinas with flour from Nebraska does not qualify. The product must be produced by an independently owned business, and if the business is privately-traded or an cooperatively-owned company, it must make less than one percent of the industry leader. These factors are designed to benefit the local economy.

One change that fourth year marine science student Duncan Miller would like to see in food offerings is to “give an option to have ‘cracked eggs’ instead of the pre-packaged liquid-egg product that is served at breakfast.” Miller also commented that he would like to see a farmer’s market with fresh and healthy offering on campus, benefiting from the support of campus-wide marketing.

Not to be limited to one person or team, the RFC is a campus-wide call for student participation and activism by ongoing assistance with the audit process and research about new product opportunities and recommendations in regards to purchasing priorities.

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