The Real Food Movement Continues to Grow

Angela Babb, Food Planning and Implementation

Last month, the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees signed the Real Food Campus Commitment, which directly affects over 400,000 students across 23 campuses as well as faculty, staff and the surrounding communities.


The Real Food Campus Commitment, developed by the Real Food Challenge, states an institutional plan to purchase 20% sustainable food by 2020. For the CSU system, this is approximately $25 million that will be transferred annually to more sustainable farming and fair business operations. Twenty-five colleges and universities across the U.S. have already signed the Real Food Campus Commitment, but the size and impact of this pledge at CSU is unprecedented and provides important succor to real food advocates across the nation.

The fact of the matter is this: Our food system is not sustainable. Agricultural systems currently have a paramount effect on our planet’s carbon and nitrogen cycles, and remain an essential and complex component of sustainable development. We are losing freshwater, topsoil, and biodiversity at alarming rates, while the growing use of petrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) pollutes our natural resources and our own bodies. It is estimated that 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted, while 15% of American citizens experience food insecurity. Climate change mitigation must involve significant changes to our global food system, with regard to both physical and social limitations.

Large institutions like CSU and Indiana University have a pertinent role to play in the development of a food system that can truly nourish us and not compromise the needs of our children. One major student movement across the U.S. is the Real Food Challenge, which is actually two-fold: the Real Food Calculator and the Real Food Campus Commitment. While the latter is a promise to procure more sustainable food and increase educational initiatives surrounding food, the Real Food Calculator, informed by the Real Food Guide, is used to estimate the percentage of sustainable food and create transparency in the food system, so that schools can set real goals and track their progress.

Indiana University is one of over a hundred universities currently using the Real Food Guide to assess the percentage of real food on the Bloomington campus. Real (sustainable) food is defined as that which meets the criteria in at least one of four categories: Local and Community-based, Fair, Ecologically Sound, and Humane. During the spring semester of 2014, a group of students estimated that Indiana University currently procures less than 4% real food – a not-so-impressive figure. It is my dream that IU will soon follow the CSUs’ lead and sign the commitment to shift food purchases to more sustainable sources, a change that would greatly impact the health of students, faculty, staff and communities throughout our 8-campus system.

If you are interested in learning more about sustainable food and continuing the real food assessment at IUB, Professor Daniel C. Knudsen will be offering a course this fall in which students receive credit for the research. GEOG-G450: Readings & Research in Geography, Real Food Challenge



3 thoughts on “The Real Food Movement Continues to Grow

  1. This honest effort in adjusting institutional food sourcing is great, but there’s also the behavior adjustment that must be made on the consumer side. Like the article states, probably upwards of 40% of food is wasted, and that must be, in large part, due to consumers simply throwing food away. In a university setting, in addition to the students themselves, a lot of this burden must fall on the food services division of the university. Certain behavioral initiatives can be completed to ween students off of wastefulness, but there is that institutional side of things that needs to change too. Perhaps this purchase of “real food” ultimately leads to improved consumption.

    1. Yes, there is definitely a balancing act between the institutional changes and behavioral changes. The institution doesn’t want to shift purchases if the student body won’t buy the new product, but we can’t get students to choose more sustainable options without making them available first. So, we must work on both ends simultaneously, for sure.

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