The Future of Food at Indiana University

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.


6 thoughts on “The Future of Food at Indiana University

  1. I really appreciate your break down on what sustainable food means (local, fair, ecologically sound, humane). Having a well-defined meaning to the phrase will help me make better decisions when purchasing “sustainable” food products. thanks!

  2. I think this is an important and very interesting issue to address, especially on a college campus and am excited to see where it goes. I do however, think that when talking about sustainable food it is important to also factor in the discussion of seasonal food.

    1. I agree with you that purchasing and consuming seasonal food is an important part of sustainable food. Many people never stop to realize how bizarre it is that we have access to almost any type of food year round at our super grocery stores. I would also assume that factory-made, processed and packaged foods are not part of a sustainable food plan, although such items are very popular among college students.

  3. It’s amazing how much IU students can impact and influence the City of Bloomington, especially during the school year; 42,000 mouths are a lot to feed! While the students often bring their business to local restaurants around town, a lot of their eating takes place at IU facilities. With that said, it’s very exciting to see that the university’s Office of Sustainability is working towards a more sustainable food procurement plan by working with IU’s existing providers. It’s also great to know that those working on the project are knowledgeable and, very importantly, optimistic about the future of sustainable food at IU.

  4. Another crucial aspect of sustainable food is to ensure that it is sustainable for all members of the community as well. There are diverse groups in Bloomington and while the campus community is one of them, we can work with community partners as well and make sustainable food a reality for all.

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