University of Cincinnati students in Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Protection are working closely with administrators to bring fresh, organic food to campus.
Student advocates received permission to go forward with the Real Food Calculator, the first step to the Real Food Challenge — a presidential pledge to work toward providing 20 percent “real food” in dining halls by 2020. The calculator determines how healthy the food currently being served is and how much it needs to improve. The university can use the calculator without signing a commitment to the challenge, a national campaign to provide students with more sustainable food in school systems.
“The commitment is still the ultimate goal because that is what [ensures] that the calculator will continue to be done each year, because any school can do the calculator just once and never do it again,” said Page Kagafas, a fourth-year dietetics student and co-president of LEAP. “Signing the commitment [would say] our school cares to work toward 20 percent real food.”
UC’s Undergraduate Student Government endorsed the commitment, while LEAP members met with President Santa Ono and presented the campaign to the University Executive Committee.
“As part of our commitment to sustainability as well as continuing to make sure that we have healthy and local food options available, it is definitely a good idea for us to be involved in [the Real Food Challenge],” said Lane Hart, student body president. “Maybe we can’t implement the entire thing in year one, but we can work toward that.”
Ono released a statement of support for the Real Food Challenge, and plans to create a dialogue between students and administration to bring about lasting changes, Kagafas said.
The executive commitment agreed to move forward with the calculator in order to find UC’s real food percentage and determine the feasibility of participating in the challenge as a university.
“We aren’t to the point of university commitment because there is a lot to do now to gather data about what we are currently doing,” said Debra Merchant, interim vice president of student affairs and member of the executive committee. “I was impressed with the homework that [LEAP students] have done up to this point, and just by the fact that they have so much energy about this particular initiative.”
UC will be the largest school in the Midwest to complete the calculator.
“A lot of schools that have done the Real Food Challenge are small schools, but we are trying not to be discouraged by that because we think that UC can definitely do it,” said Mary Gorsek, a third-year horticulture student and member of LEAP.
Real food is defined by four categories — community based, fair, humane and ecologically sound — based on student research.
“Some schools will go through thcalculator and see that they only have 2 percent real food, and that is actually pretty common,” Kagafas said. “I have a feeling [UC] will be around that.”
Todd Duncan, director of housing and food services, believes the calculator will show UC already has a high percentage of real food, Merchant said.
During the calculation process, UC’s dining hall invoices will be reviewed to determine where food items are purchased to calculate how much food is local and organic.
A portion of the food calculator is expected to be complete this semester.