Real Food Challenge Research Underway – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Real Food Challenge Research Underway

Hobart and William Smith continues to recognize and support a commitment to the Real Food Challenge (RFC) campaign, which provides campuses with structure and resources for serving “real food” — that is, food that “truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth,” according to the RFC website.

In support of a more sustainable food system, that “fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability,” HWS students have advocated for the Colleges to acknowledge their current purchasing practices and to then consider pledging to ensure that at least 20 percent of the food served on campus is local/regional, ecologically sustainable, humane and fair, by 2020. An analysis of Sodexo’s current receipts is currently underway to calculate the percentage of ‘real’ food purchased by HWS.

In signing the Real Food Campus Commitment, the Colleges would pledge to establish a transparent reporting system to assess food procurement; to compile an annual progress report; to form a food systems working group comprised of students, staff, faculty, food service managers, food service workers and relevant local stakeholders; to create and make publicly available the real food policy, multi-year action plan and annual progress reports; and to increase awareness about ecologically sustainable, humane and socially equitable food systems on campus.

Partnering with the Finger Lakes Institute, HWS Office of Sustainability and Environmental Studies Program, the HWS Real Food Challenge Working Group is a student-run campaign supported by the leadership of the HWS Sustainable Foods Club and club members who are passionate about bettering the campus food system.

During her summer 2013 internship with the Finger Lakes Institute, Mollie Kenerson ’15, former co-president of the Sustainable Foods Club, learned about the RFC and advocated for HWS’ commitment. After meeting with Mark Robinson, operations manager at Sodexo at HWS, and gauging student interest, Kenerson attended a National RFC Retreat in Minneapolis with Mekala Bertocci ’14 and Stacey Davis ’15 to obtain training and guidance on how to bring the RFC to HWS.

“The RFC conference opened our eyes to the many ways in which food can build community, coalitions and change for the better both within higher education institutions and the communities they are a part of,” Kenerson says.

Kelly Mauch ’17 – who served as an RFC leader and researcher, recruiting volunteers, engaging with students on food preferences, sorting invoices, and more — says that because “additional student participation was key, we organized a meeting in November 2014 calling all those interested in food change on campus and then a separate meeting to facilitate a Skype ‘training’ with a Real Food Challenge Rep for those willing to research Sodexo invoices.”

During the 2015 winter break, Kenerson, Davis and Mauch — alongside Caroline Demeter ’15, Jacob Fox ’16, Erin Miller ’16, Sarah Kloos ’16, and Alex Lamonte ’17 – began to input receipt data of Sodexo invoices into the RFC Calculator to measure what food currently served could be considered real food.

Demeter, who completed an independent Senior Integrative Experience project on the RFC for her Environmental Studies major, examined Sysco receipts and purchasing records specifically– such as the distance of the producer or the actual ingredients and source of the food — to determine if it met the criteria for “real food.” Although Sysco is the major vendor to Sodexo, there were receipts from eight remaining vendors needing analysis.

Davis is interning at the FLI this summer to finish processing receipts and complete the RFC Calculator to determine the percent of ‘real’ food purchased by HWS. Her internship will develop specific scenarios for HWS to consider ways to increase that percentage. She points out that the initial efforts of the RFC will extend far beyond the campus community.

“Sourcing more real food on campus will benefit local producers, the environment, the local economy, and potentially bridge the gap between the HWS community and the Geneva community,” she says. “Having access to food that makes people ‘feel good’ has become a privilege in today’s world. As a food justice activist, I get really excited about initiatives, such as the RFC, and their potential to provide people with the food that, not only tastes good, but reflects their morals and values.”

Mauch also notes that the conversation about “real food” extends beyond the food itself. “Having the ability to be aware and satisfied with what one puts in their body,” she says, “is inherently tied to respect — self-respect. I’m fighting for more real food to provide healthier, more satisfying, and sustainable options for students.”