The Real Food Challenge (RFC), a national sustainability project aiming to shift existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and towards local, fair, and humane food sources, has become the focal point of this summer for Stacey Davis ’15.
Interning for the Finger Lakes Institute under the direction of Community Outreach Coordinator Sarah Meyer, Davis works on the official Real Food Challenge Calculator, hoping to bring closure to a project that classmate Mollie Kenerson ’15 introduced to campus two years ago.
The launching of the Real Food Challenge at HWS was originally inspired by a visit from Environmentalist David Orr in 2012 in which he spoke about local food sourcing at Oberlin College where he is a professor of environmental studies and politics. Passionate about environmental justice and sustainable accessibility, Kenerson took the initiative to establish the campus movement toward sourcing food in an ecologically sound manor. Since then, many of Kenerson’s classmates, including Davis, have supported the campus-wide effort.
“I saw this internship as an opportunity to finish what a few of my closest friends and I had started on campus a few years ago,” says Davis. “We are trying to get more overall student and faculty support to gain an institutional commitment toward re-sourcing food purchases.”
After carefully assessing itemized dining service invoices for product transparencies and disqualifiers from September 2014 and February 2015, Davis began analyzing how much of existing HWS’ campus food budget is spent on what is considered “real” food. To be classified as such, according to the Real Food Challenge organization, items must be local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and/or humane.
Also taken into account was a 2015 student-issued baseline survey, which revealed student opinions and preferences on food on campus. Receiving about 600 respondents, the purpose of the survey was to “give a better idea of what students on campus define as “real” food and what they are willing to pay extra for.” Davis emphasizes that “it is important to allow students their own voice in defining and supporting the efforts.”
Once product research was completed, Davis entered the data into the Real Food Challenge Calculator portal, accessible to trained students on the Real Food Challenge website, to be verified by regional representatives. When finished, a percentage is produced, revealing how much of total purchased food on campus (in dollars) is “real,” as defined by the Real Food Challenge.
By the end of this summer, Davis expects to reveal the calculated percentage of “real” food to the HWS community. The next step of the challenge will include gaining institutional support and commitment, based on the data, in urging food vendors to source more fair-trade certified, organic, human, and local items.
Nationally, the RFC organization aims to re-direct a total of $1 billion of university food expenditures toward the purchasing of “real” food. Therefore, Davis’ work will involve determining a feasible campus goal which will lend to the success of the national goal over the coming years.
“I have put a lot of time into the Real Food Challenge,” says Davis. “I feel it has potential to not only significantly improve the quality of food on campus, but also allow for us to build stronger relationships with the local community, producers, and the economy, while providing the Colleges with the opportunity to reduce their environmental footprint.”
This fall, Davis will continue working toward creating a more sustainable food system at the national level, with her recent acceptance into the FoodCorps program. The program is part of the AmeriCorps Service Network which aims to connect children to real food and help them grow up healthy through providing gardening, cooking, and nutrition education.
“Persevering and accomplishing her personal goals as a student was done to benefit the entire campus,” says Meyer. “Stacey truly believes and is invested in improving food literacy and justice for the greater good–for her peers, and her community. Mentoring Stacey through research initiatives, internships, and campus activities over the past three years has been gratifying and reassures me that she will continue to succeed and make positive change in her FoodCorps placement.”
Davis says she will forever remain grateful for her invaluable experiences at HWS.
“This internship has reminded of how fortunate I am to have spent my undergraduate career at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Student initiatives are encouraged and supported heavily on campus, which demonstrates the strength of community support. Sarah Meyer and Robin Lewis-in particular-have encouraged and supported us since day one. They have been a few of the most fundamental actors in allowing for students like myself to move forward with the challenge and encourage HWS to strive for a democratic, just, and morally-sound food system on campus.”
For more information on the Real Food Challenge, please visit their website.