Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Get Real! UNH and the growing student food movement

by: Ann Steeves
     Young people have always clarified the morality of our times.  This sentiment was echoed throughout this past weekend as the student organization, Get Real! UNH, had the opportunity to attend the Second Annual Real Food Challenge “Breaking Ground” National Summit.   The Real Food Challenge is a growing student movement working toward changing institutional purchasing power to create a more just and sustainable food system. I’m sure at this point you are wondering what “real food” equates to.  Real food is food that truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities, and the earth.  The Real Food Challenge has more in-depth standards for evaluation comprising of four categories: local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane.  Get Real! and our peers across the nation are using these categories to evaluate the food served in Dining Halls and work with Dining Administrators to explore different options.
     I’m sure you may be wondering how college students could possibly change the food system?  Students have the power to make real change through their University’s institutional buying power.   Let me provide some perspective: nearly two-thirds of all universities outsource their Dining services (UNH is lucky to be self-operated!).  Of this 2/3, 93% are operated by one of the top three service providers: Compass Group, Sodexho, or Aramark.  All three of these corporations operate internationally and make billions of dollars of revenue annually. Compass Group makes $20 billion, Sodexho makes $19 billion, and Aramark makes $12 billion.  With these numbers in mind, you may be surprised to learn that McDonald’s only generates an annual revenue of $24 billion globally.  Most people generalize that McDonald’s purchasing power has immense control of the food system around the world.  When observed from this perspective, however, it astonishes that only the top three institutional providers generate over twice as much in revenue.  This realization indicates the incredible purchasing power and influence on supply chains that colleges and universities are part of.
     The University of New Hampshire is proud to be a self-operated school and a leader in sustainability.  We are proud to share our inspiring initiatives with our peers across the nation.  Many schools are unable to talk with their Dining Administration, do not have any locally sourced foods, and are completely foreign to the concept of composting food waste to use in University agriculture.  We are very proud of our University’s efforts and recognize how well we compare to other schools.  The Sustainability Institute has a large presence on campus and works with Dining to assess purchases.  Through the Sustainability Academy, UNH has evaluated our Dining purchases and assessed that we have 26% of our food locally sourced within a 250 mile radius.  Get Real! and the Real Food Challenge would like to do further analysis beyond what is local to find out where we stand with national standards.  It is exciting to have a national standard for institutions to be held to.  A standard is meant to be a benchmark of quality.  Too many schools and institutions claim to be “going green” or to have their own standard of sustainability.  The implication of following one’s own standard is completely contrary to the definition of a standard. UNH is proud to be part of the movement to hold institutions accountable to national standards.  
     Our generation will bear the brunt of the current food system.  Many groups on campus recognize this and are involved with food in some way; SlowFood works to preserve and revitalize food culture, Oxfam works to address poverty and women’s rights in agriculture, the Student Environmental Action Coalition works toward changing environmental policies that are often intertwined with food policy, the Organic Garden Club works to grow real food on campus, the Freedom CafĂ© works toward raising awareness of human trafficking through serving quality coffees and teas, the Student Nutrition Association works toward educating peers on healthy food choices, and many students are studying aspects of the food system every day through UNH’s academic programs such as EcoGastronomy, Nutrition, Sustainable Agriculture, Environmental Conservation, or Resource Economics.  Get Real! UNH is all-encompassing of these issues and works to spread awareness of the great complexities and intertwined values of the food system.  Our overarching message is that every aspect of society can be connected to the food system.
     Join the fight toward a more equitable world and check out one of our meetings on Mondays from 5:30- 6:30pm in MUB 114F. The food movement is here and gaining power every day.  As Carlo Petrini, Founder of the SlowFood movement states, “We are the fastest growing peaceful army in the world. The politicians don’t understand yet.”

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