On Wednesday, College Council (CC) voted to approve a resolution in support of the Real Food Challenge, a national initiative started by Anim Steel ’94 that seeks to promote socially and environmentally conscious food purchasing. “Members of the Real Food coalition approached us a few weeks ago supporting [student] efforts in getting the administration to sign onto the ‘Real Food Challenge,’” CC Co-President Adrian Castro ’14 said. “After two weeks of deliberation on the item, Council voted in favor of supporting the students.” The resolution officially passed by a vote of 15-4-4.
The Real Food Challenge, which supports a national network of college and university campuses including the Real Food Williams chapter, campaigns to increase campus “real food” purchases to 20 percent of all food purchases by 2020. The organization defines “real food” as meeting one of four criteria: local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound or humane.
After working with Real Food Williams and the Zilkha Center, Dining Services has determined it currently purchases 13.1 percent real food and is committed to reaching 20 percent by 2020. “Dining Services is constantly seeking to improve our practices,” Bob Volpi, director of dining services, said. “It is our goal to increase our sustainable food purchases while maintaining the quality, choice and creativity of our program. We are seeking food suppliers who can help us achieve our objectives while performing to our standards in terms of safe food-handling protocols.”
In fact, Dining Services has determined its own criteria for purchasing sustainable food: the food must be grown or raised within 250 miles of Williamstown, produced by a small-scale independent or cooperatively-owned farm, certified organic, raised cage-free, crate-free or under pastured/grass-fed conditions for animal products or produced at the original source point by a majority of workers who receive at least hourly minimum wage and employer-purchased health insurance, to qualify as sustainable by the College’s standards. Dining Services inevitably meets Real Food Challenge’s criteria at times, but it also tailors its purchasing practices to suit the College’s needs, such as expanding the “local” definition from 150 miles to 250 miles in order to prevent precluding, say, farms in New Hampshire that may supply an important food commodity.
“The administration does not like signing any sort of commitment that is part of a larger network,” said Eirann Cohen ’15 of Real Food Williams. Addressing concerns about the nature of the commitment, Cohen explained: “The Real Food Challenge provides a structure to help the College achieve its goals for sustainable food. The Real Food Challenge does not impose regulations on the College, but helps the students, staff and faculty make changes in a way that is beneficial for the institution.”
While Real Food Williams has the support of CC, it is currently attempting to persuade the administration to sign on to the challenge as well. “It’s gratifying that people feel so strongly about what we’re already doing,” Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass said. “I really don’t believe we need to sign an externally generated document to commit ourselves to something we already believe is important.”
“The Real Food Challenge and the Real Food Commitment are not just about us doing a good job,” Jacob Addelson ’14 of Real Food Williams argued, “but are also about joining up with a national network of students at other colleges and acknowledging the national and international implications of food purchasing and the power that collective commitment can exert over the food system, given that college food purchasing accounts for $5 billion per year nationwide.”