Students are asking Aramark, Western’s food service company, to stay real.
The company is approaching the goal of the Real Food Challenge, a national health program, to use 20 percent ‘real food’ by the end of the year, and is closer than any other school in the state at meeting this goal. However, it has not formally joined the challenge.
Corporate Aramark has closed the door on Real Food Challenge and has said they’re not going to work with student organizers. But at Western, Aramark has to act differently because they signed a contract with the university that already had sustainability elements in it, said Western senior Chelsea Gabrielle, a member of Students for Sustainable Food.
Students for Sustainable Food, an on-campus club, joined forces with the challenge in the hopes of shifting $1 billion of annual college food purchases away from industrial agriculture and toward ‘real food,' Gabrielle said.
Food must be certified fair-trade, certified USDA organic, locally grown within 150 miles or certified humanely raised to be considered ‘real food,' according to Western’s 2010-11 Sustainability Report, a document measuring Western’s progress in various sustainability categories.
“One billion dollars is really just a drop in the hat [for the dining services industry,]” Gabrielle said.
In 2009, Students for Sustainable Food and the Office of Sustainability proposed adopting the goals of the Real Food Challenge, according to the report. In response, the office hired a sustainability intern, who is responsible for tracking every purchase the dining services vendor makes. They do this by using a criteria-based calculator developed by Real Food Challenge, said previous sustainability intern Jenna Keczynski. The calculator helps universities make measurable goals and track progress, said Emma Brewster, Real Food Challenge’s Pacific Northwest coordinator.
Thirty schools, including Western, are piloting the calculator, Brewster said.
Western has completed the calculator three times. Because the calculator is still in the pilot phases, universities are not required to report their results to the public. If Western agrees to do another calculator assessment, the results would have to be made public, Brewster said.
In the 2009-10 school year, 19 percent of Western’s food purchases from October and November qualified as real food, according to the sustainability report.
Western has not yet submitted this year’s final results for Real Food Challenge, but they are expected to be close to the 20 percent goal, Brewster said.
“Western is far above and beyond any other campuses in the northwest and the nation,” Brewster said. “They should be very proud of all the hard work they have done.”
The 20 percent real food goal was implemented when the previous vendor for dining services, Sodexo, was still on campus. Aramark signed their contract with the university in 2011.