From cafeterias to farms: How students are mobilizing their universities to build a more local, just, and sustainable food system

Through intentional, strategic activism aimed at leveraging the large institutional buying power of their colleges and universities, students leaders within the national "Real Food Challenge" are setting the stage not just for more transparency and better informed choices with every cafeteria tray, but for larger transformations in the food system as a whole. Originally published at Community-Wealth.org.

Students march for real food and fair food in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, at the 2013 National RFC Summit in Baltimore, MD. Source: Real Food Challenge.

Students march for real food and fair food in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, at the 2013 National RFC Summit in Baltimore, MD. Source: Real Food Challenge.

Thousands of students have united under the guise of a nation-wide campaign called the Real Food Challenge (RFC), a movement aimed at shifting $1 billion in institutional food spending to food that is sustainable, just, and local: in other words, ‘real food.’ Jon Berger, a food activist and former mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the RFC, emphasizes the necessity of engaging with colleges to begin to restructure the supply chains that feed the population as a whole, explaining that “changing the economic and political systems of the world will require taking over and changing the institutions that make up the current system.” (Left: In Colombus Ohio, students of Ohio State University brainstorm their visions for a new food system)

As Berger notes, the lynchpin of the RFC campaign is the notion that rerouting supply chains within institutions will catalyze changes in the structure of the entire food and labor systems writ large. The sheer number of mouths to feed at each university translates into incredible purchasing power, magnifying the impact RFC activists can have if they get their schools to strategically redirect the money they currently spend on food products that don’t lead to equity or sustainability. “Our universities have massive purchasing power when it comes to the food industry,” says Caroline Unger, a student organizer at McDaniel University in Maryland. “They have the ability,” she believes, “with student pressure, to shift sourcing away from the most destructive and exploitative sources to producers that prioritize ethically produced and sustainably grown food.”  While many universities with forward thinking leadership have embraced an anchor mission that prioritizes local, fair, and sustainable purchasing without student campaigns, such organizing efforts can help generalize such commitments across the academic sector and play a key role in educating the students themselves about the power of localized procurement to intentionally shape better and more equitable economic outcomes....

Originally published at...

community-wealth.org logo.png