The Real Food Challenge

Dear Editor:

Thank you for your recent consideration of the Real Food Campus Commitment and your attention to the growing movement for just and sustainable food at Williams and beyond (“A reality check on College food policy,” Apr. 17). I am glad to hear that you not only support the College’s commitment to real food, but also are interested in even more specific standards and in increased transparency and accountability.

The Commitment would in fact allow us to pursue both of these goals, by engaging a diverse group of stakeholders in developing a Williams-specific real food policy that could allow us to go above and beyond the basic requirements of real food, and by providing a framework for pursuing and publicizing that policy through a multi-year action plan. It is also important to clarify that we would not be subject to third-party auditing, but rather would be using the most effective tools available to pursue our goals as part of a national movement.

These issues aside, it seems to me that the primary question raised by your editorial position is whether the College is better off pursuing our real food goals independently or as a leader among a movement of our peer institutions. The argument that we can meet our food sustainability goals simply by taking advantage of our rural location fails to consider the significant challenges we face in changing the food system.

Real food is not just about local food purchasing. The categories “fair,” “humane,” and “ecologically sustainable” are necessary because most of the food currently available to us is, unfortunately, none of these things. This reality is not inevitable, but rather the product of a political and economic system that makes practices like labor abuse and confined animal feeding operations profitable.

We, as an institution committed to supporting our local community, should certainly commit to local purchasing in order to provide financial security for farms that have been marginalized by national food and farm policies. But unless we can combine our purchasing power with that of other colleges and universities, to commit $1 billion of the $5 billion our institutions spend on annual food purchasing to purchasing real food, we will have a hard time meeting our goals for just and sustainable purchasing alone.

Williams has already made an impressive internal commitment to sustainable food purchasing, and this commitment should be strengthened not only by publicizing and clarifying that commitment but also by institutionalizing an open dialogue on these questions. It’s time to use the Real Food Commitment to take the next step – to hold ourselves to a higher standard and to take the lead in changing not just the food we eat in the dining halls, but the food that is available for everyone else.

Andrea Lindsay ’13

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