Only five percent of IU’s food products qualified as Real Food in 2015-16.
Real Food, according to the national youth-led movement Real Food Challenge, is defined as local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane.
“Each individual can only make so much of any impact by switching their food practices,” professor Angela Babb said. “When large institutions switch their purchasing practices, it makes a much larger sustainability impact.”
The Real Food Challenge was first introduced at IU-Bloomington in 2013 as a method of establishing a common definition for sustainable food across dining locations and vendors. Babb now supervises two student sustainability scholars leading research for the project.
Fifty schools in the United States have signed the Real Food Campus Commitment, pledging to buy 20 percent Real Food by 2020.
Though Provost Lauren Robel and Rahul Shrivastav, the director of RPS dining services, have not yet formally signed the commitment, IU sustainability scholars and the Food Working Group, a coalition of faculty, staff, students and community members convened through the IU Office of Sustainability, are working to raise IU’s real food percentage and gain student and faculty support.
“A lot of times, food is overlooked. It’s like a second thought for most people,” freshman sustainability scholar Emma Schuster said. “There’s a disconnect between where it comes from, and what we eat.”
Babb said the letter to Robel, along with an endorsement letter for members of the Bloomington Faculty Council to sign, will be ready to distribute by the end of this week.
The Real Food Challenge at IU primarily focuses on the local component of the standards. By shifting revenue from multinational corporations to local farms, IU could help increase global food security, increase consumers’ connection to their food and support the local economy.
In the past couple years, Babb said, those working on the Real Food Challenge have started to turn from research to implementation.
The geography department has offered GEOG-G 306: Current Issues in Globalization, Development and Justice for the last three spring semesters to have students assess the portion of IU's food products that comply with the standards.
This year, Babb supervises two sustainability scholars who work eight to 10 hours per week to research and act upon IU’s purchasing habits.
Schuster is in charge of cataloging every food product in IU’s food system to mark which products qualify as Real Food.
When Schuster finishes the 6,000 line-item spreadsheet in April, it will be used to calculate IU’s real food percentage for 2016-17.
The other sustainability scholar, freshman Jennifer Navarro, uses the information to identify products that could be shifted to local vendors.
Navarro said she has worked primarily with Prairie Farms, a dairy company with a farm in Indianapolis, and Hubbard and Cravens, an Indianapolis-based coffee and tea company.
Because local food must meet additional requirements to be termed real, Navarro explains to vendors what they need to do in order to make their products meet the standards.
In some cases, that means eliminating genetically modified ingredients.
Prairie Farms has replaced some milk, yogurt and sour cream that IU Dining Services previously purchased from Gordon Food Service, one of IU’s biggest food vendors.
Navarro is also working on replacing Starbucks coffee sold in dining locations with Hubbard and Cravens products. Last week, Navarro met with Hubbard and Cravens to assess their capacity to expand across campus.
Gordon Food Service will make a presentation at the beginning of April about ways it can help IU Dining Services achieve the 20 percent by 2020 goal. Babb said she hopes this initiates a snowball effect with other vendors and brings more attention to the project.
Babb said building campus support is critical in encouraging Robel to sign the commitment when they present it to her this spring.
Students can join the student group Real Food Challenge, participate in the Food Working Group or campaign through petitions and social media to show their support.
“I know students want more sustainable food," Babb said. "They want fresher, whole food. But there’s no obvious outlet for effecting change. And this is an outlet for effecting change.”