Everyone has heard the adage “you are what you eat,” but our personal food choices do more than shape our health, they shape the global food system, and by extension society. Furthermore, Carleton is what Carleton eats, and as an institution that feeds hundreds of people everyday, the choices Carleton makes about where to acquire its food can have real impact. Last term, director of purchasing for Bon Appétit Management Company Helene Yorke gave convocation on the importance of reforming our food system through larger systemic change, and Carleton is on the verge of doing just this. Across the nation a group called the Real Food Challenge is mobilizing students to push their food providers to sign “Real Food Campus Commitments.” As a whole, these commitments aim to shift a billion dollars from negative food purchases to ones that nourish our bodies, community, and planet. Members of Carleton’s Food Truth student group have been engaged in this campaign for two years, and are closer than ever to having Carleton sign a Real Food Campus Commitment. By doing so, Carleton would commit to writing a food policy that articulates its values, and would set a goal of purchasing 35% real food by 2020.
“Real food” is a term used to describe food that truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the planet—a type of food that is increasingly difficult to find in America’s flawed food system. In reality, most food in America is produced by a handful of companies, and these massive enterprises’ practices often harm the environment, exploit workers, and tamper with what we digest. Issues like slave labor in Florida tomato fields, the creation of antibiotic resistant bacteria, decreased biodiversity due to monoculture crops, and the diabetes epidemic are a small sampling of the many problems directly related to the way food is produced. As consumers, we are partially responsible for these malpractices because we support them with every purchase. Yet even then, individual choices to buy local and humane do not have the power to shape such a large system, and this dilemma left senior Lindsay Guthrie feeling upset and powerless. This is why Lindsay jumped at the chance to work with the Real Food Challenge, a campaign that unites colleges across the nation towards bettering the food system through institutional shifts in purchasing.
The challenge gives students access to a tool called the Real Food Calculator, which tracks every food purchase a college or company makes. With this program, students, like Calculator leader Anna Larson, can analyze Carleton’s purchases to see if our food meets standards set by the greater Real Food Challenge program: local and community based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane. These standards are fairly high, and carefully exclude foods with simple labels like “natural” or “raised without antibiotics,” that actually have little difference from their poorly produced counterparts. In addition, these students research alternative products and producers to shift dollars away from harmful practices, without raising overall cost. After much research with the Food Calculator, Anna and other students already know which changes Carleton needs to make over the years to reach the 35% commitment, such as shifting to entirely cage free eggs and local pork products. In fact, students calculated that Bon Appétit’s current work with local farmers, fair trade agreements, and animal welfare policies already set us at 20% real food, meaning Carleton is already spending $460,000 a year on real food. This new commitment would invest an addition $240,000 a year into purchases that improve the food system, setting Carleton at a totally of about $700,000 real food purchases per year, enough to make a real impact. Furthermore, committing to 35% real food by 2020 would be the second largest percentage in the nation, making Carleton a national leader in campus wide sustainable food.
The Campus Commitment also requires that the college establish a food systems working group to ensure changes are followed through, and earlier this fall Lindsay organized such a group called the Food Alliance. Since then, students, staff, and faculty have already begun collaborating on Carleton’s food policy. Every other week, leaders from Carleton’s food groups like Food Truth, Firebellies, and Farm House meet with Bon Appétit chefs and managers, as well as members of the larger food community, to discuss events, ideas, and concerns. Thus, Carleton has already achieved most of the Campus Commitment’s goals, but despite this year of collaboration and planning, administrators have not given the proposal serious consideration. Oddly enough, Carleton states in its Climate Action Plan that it will “encourage [its] food service provider to increase percentages of local, organic, and sustainable food purchases,” but there is no official plan is in place. As students, these changes would not mean an increase in meal plan costs, nor a forced health kick, but rather a guarantee that our food dollars are supporting sustainable and fair practices. Thus, it is in our best interests to further the great work that is already happening, and officially recognize that real food is something Carleton values. If you want to give your support, go to apps.carleton.edu/food/foodpolicy to sign a petition for the Real Food Campus Commitment, and show administrators that Carls care about their food, health, and the environment.