Assessing the Big Picture

By: Stone Irr

As one of the largest campuses in the nation, Indiana University has quite the daunting task providing accessible food options for its 42,000 undergraduate students. In order to assess how great of a demand this is, let us look at the breadth of the three main food providers on campus.

With over 10,000 Residence Hall Beds, Residential Programs and Services is responsible for feeding the entire freshman class as well as many returning students within the Residence Halls. This responsibility is accomplished through the operation of 28 on-campus dining halls, cafes and C-Stores.

At nearly 500,000 square feet, the Indiana Memorial Union stands as one of the largest student union buildings in the world. Once in the IMU, you first take note of the large amount of foot traffic. Among that foot traffic, many students and faculty are grabbing a quick lunch at one of the many restaurants run and operated by Sodexo—whether their purchase is a hamburger at Burger King or a bowl of soup in Dunn Meadow.

An accurate portrayal of a typical afternoon in the IMU Starbucks

According to statistics from 2011, the IU men’s basketball program ranked 12th in the nation for attendance—averaging over 15,000 fans in 18 home games. Athletics provides all of the food and catering services within Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall. Consider just one basketball game—those 15,000 attendees equate to thousands of food purchases transactions

Due to the large size of IU, it is easy to get lost in knowing exactly what we are eating on campus. Uncovering the story behind our food’s journey and social impact can be quite difficult. This semester I, along with two previous interns at the IU Office of Sustainability, have the opportunity of assessing invoices and researching purchases made by these three food providers on campus. In this assessment, we hope to gain a clearer understanding of the impact our food choices have here on campus and elsewhere. Needless to say, this is a large task.

We are currently fulfilling this task through the Real Food Calculator, a food assessment tool created by the Real Food Challenge. The Real Food Challenge is a non-profit organization that advocates for food transparency on college campuses. Through this calculator we will not only record the October and April invoices of RPS, Sodexo and Athletics but also assess the food purchases made.

The assessment process includes looking at IU’s food purchases through four categories: local and community based, ecologically sound, fair, and humane. As a research team, we will evaluate our food against the Real Food Challenge’s specifications for these categories to determine which food items are considered to be “real food.”

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The Real Food Calculator Assessment Tool

Essentially, this assessment encourages the purchase and consumption of local food that does not support the use additives or synthesized materials, any processing that would create harm upon our ecological system, unfair labor practice and inhumane treatment of animals.

So, where are we in this process? I am currently working with Sodexo looking through their invoices. After over 50 hours of input, only two weeks of invoices have been compiled—leaving a long road ahead for those of us researching. But we are determined to fulfill this assessment in order to create a clearer picture of our campus’ food purchases.

Later this semester, a group of students on campus will be traveling to the Real Food Summit held in Minnesota this October. During this summit, we will meet with representatives from other schools across the nation to share research methods and discuss campaign strategies for advocating real food on our campuses.

We hope use this research to inform students and faculty on campus exactly where their food is sourced and what sort of implications come packaged within their food. In addition, we hope to provide steps individuals can take to improve what they are consuming on campus—even on one of the largest campuses in the nation.


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