By Angela Babb, Food Planning
What is sustainable food? Many would say that to be sustainable, food must be four things, starting with local. Specific definitions of local change with each region, but the shorter the farm-to-table distance, the better. Secondly, sustainable food is fair; workers must be paid well, have access to health insurance and be treated justly. Sustainable food must be ecologically sound, so no harmful chemicals polluting our shrinking supply of freshwater. Last but not least, sustainable food is humane, meaning animals have easy access to food and water and ample space to move and thrive without unduly stress. How much of the food at Indiana University is considered sustainable? We should be finding out soon after the upcoming IU Food Summit, held by the IU Office of Sustainability.
At a time when people are becoming progressively aware of the terrible realities of the global food system, institutions are feeling increasing pressure to acquire food more closely aligned with the values of sustainability, and they hold a unique position capable of facilitating substantial change. Between the months of August and May, students of Indiana University account for more than half of the population of Bloomington, a southern Indiana town of approximately 80,000 with 42,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff members.
The food on campus is provided by three major entities: Sodexo, RPS (Residential Programs and Services), and Athletics. During the first week of June 2013, the IU Office of Sustainability will be holding a food summit to convene these three key stakeholders and discuss the future of food at Indiana University. We will review the challenges and opportunities for each food provider and begin to draft a sustainable food procurement plan to steadily improve the food at IU indefinitely. In order to set these future goals, we’ll also have to first assess our current rankings in the four major categories of sustainability.
This will be quite an intensive project, and yes, there are regulations and policies and seemingly endless barriers, but anything is possible. As Chris Gray of Sodexo stated, we just need to take the time to ask “How can we do it? Literally, what needs to be done?” Once we understand our constraints and opportunities, we can make it work here, and maybe even set a good example for other campuses and schools in our region.
We also need to collectively understand all the aspects of sustainable food, and determine an economically viable plan that will work for the university as well as the community, both regional and global. More than anything, however, we need the support of students, faculty, staff, parents, and the local community. Together we can make Bloomington a stronger, healthier and wiser place while contributing to a sustainable transformation of the global food system.