On Tuesday, The Real Food Challenge hosted their kickoff meeting in Ellis Hall.
Under the umbrella of the OU Student Union, the national campaign encourages universities to shift their food budgets towards the purchase of “real food” by 2020.
According to their website, the campaign defines real food as, “locally based, ecologically sound, fair and humane sources of food”
“Real food encompasses a concern for producers, consumers, communities, and the earth,” the website states. “We use this term to recognize that both the food system and the food movement must encompass and embrace a diversity of foci; ‘real food’ represents a common ground where all relevant issues from human rights to environmental sustainability can converge”
The organization also provides a network of student food activists from around the country, extending opportunities for learning, conversation, and leadership development.
The website explains how “young people in general (and students in particular) are, and will be, a driving force in this movement because of our collective ability to demand and achieve widespread structural and social change.”
Regional Field Organizer for Real Food Challenge, Laura Kington, works in the Midwest and has developed strong feelings about what it means to be doing work in this agricultural region.
“Here in the Midwest we can see the impacts of the consolidation of our food system really precisely in our communities and our landscape,” Kington says.“The number of farmers in this country has been plummeting for the last hundred years. Most of this agriculture is based here in Ohio and surrounding states, and in a lot of ways this is really bad for the region and for our communities, because it means that people are losing their historical livelihood.”
Ohio University’s signature means that students would be put in charge of evaluating the school’s food purchases, as well as forming a working group of students, staff, and local stakeholders who would work together to achieve the goal of 20 percent real food by 2020.
Co-coordinator of OU’s Real Food Challenge and sophomore English student, Daniel Kington, explained how important the university’s location is for contributing to the campaign and for working to combat the effects of big industry farms.
“In addition to being in the Midwest, Ohio University is also in the region known as Appalachia and probably closest to home is the fact that Athens is the poorest county in Ohio, and Ohio University is the largest employer in this county,” Kington states, “Imagine what it would mean for Ohio University to begin spending its money locally and contributing to this economy here, supporting local producers, instead of sending that money all across the country and the world, and instead revitalizing Athens itself.”
Universities nationwide have committed to the Real Food Challenge, and over 200 have signed up to use the Real Food Calculator. The calculator offers a comprehensive definition of real food and supports users in setting goals and tracking their progress towards having more real food on campus.
“We are starting to win these commitments in really tough places such as Northwestern University, University of Pittsburgh, and soon, Ohio State University. It’s really important for us to get together and win big in the Midwest,” sophomore English student Fox Alexander explains.
Kington expressed how large of an impact the Real Food Challenge could have if universities continue to commit and reduce the amount of industrialized food that they use.
“This isn’t just about the Midwest. It’s also about the world. This is a huge contribution to climate change and the way that our globalized food system disrupts rural communities across the globe,” Kington adds. “We are here in the Midwest in the belly of the beast of industrial agriculture and I think that also means that we are the people who really need to be fighting back because I don’t think that our globalized food system is going to change without the Midwest really changing.”