UVM Becomes 5th School in Nation to Sign "Real Food Campus Commitment"
- By Jeffrey R. Wakefield
At a ceremony held on campus today, the University of Vermont announced it was only the fifth school in the nation, and the first large university east of California, to sign on to a program launched last fall called the Real Food Campus Commitment. UVM students were instrumental in advocating for UVM’s participation.
By signing the commitment, UVM pledges to serve 20 percent “real food” at all its campus food outlets by 2020. Real food is defined as that which is locally grown, fair trade, of low environmental impact and/or humanely produced.
Currently 12 percent of UVM’s menu falls within those categories. UVM is confident it will exceed the 20 percent threshold before 2020.
Other schools signing the commitment include the University of California at Santa Cruz, St. Mary’s College in Indiana, Western State College of Colorado and Drew University in New Jersey.
“The current global food system has produced cheap food but is not sustainable,” said John Bramley, UVM interim president. “It relies heavily on petroleum and large energy inputs and has contributed to societal health challenges such as diabetes and obesity. We need to develop regionally based systems that protect our soils and water, are more energy efficient and contribute positively to public health.
“UVM can play an important role not just in educating students or researching the issues but by actually seeking to be part of the solution, in the way we choose to feed the 15,000 members of our community,” he continued. “I am proud of the part UVM and its food providers are playing and of the leadership role our students have taken in this important initiative and global challenge."
“We are very pleased to see UVM sign on to the Real Food Campus Commitment," said Chuck Ross, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. "Vermont is at the helm of the agricultural renaissance thanks to the devoted efforts of our local farmers, producers, and conscientious community members, many of whom got their start in UVM’s classrooms, or with help from the UVM Extension. UVM is at the forefront of educating the public about the importance of local foods to our communities, economy and environment. I want to thank President Bramley for his leadership and the UVM community for taking on this challenge. This kind of leadership not only helps UVM be a leading institution but helps to support Vermonters, our economy and our communities.”
Targeting higher ed
The Real Food Campus Commitment was developed by Real Food Challenge, a national, student-driven campaign to create a more just and sustainable food system.
According to David Schwarz, campaign director, the higher education sector is a powerful lever for change for two reasons.
“Higher education spends $5 billion a year on food,” he said. “If we achieve our goal of 20 percent ‘real food’ by 2020, we will be putting $1 billion a year toward supporting a sustainable food system. That could well be a tipping point for larger systemic change.”
The group is also targeting colleges and universities because of the impact the program can have on students’ lifelong attitudes and buying habits, Schwartz said.
UVM: “Huge motivator” for other schools
Schwartz says UVM’s decision to participate is significant because of the impact it will have on other large schools. Unlike smaller schools, who typically do their own purchasing, UVM subcontracts its dining program to a large food service provider, Sodexo.
“It’s a huge motivator for other big schools,” said Schwartz. “When they look at UVM, they’re not just seeing a peer institution; they’re seeing one that works with a large food service company as they do. If UVM and Sodexo can do it, they can, too.”
For Sodexo, which works with more than 850 colleges and universities across the country, UVM has served as a test-bed for offering more locally and sustainably produced food to schools throughout its system.
“It’s something we embrace as a company,” said Melissa Zelazny, director of UVM’s University Dining Services, which is operated by Sodexo. “UVM is the place where Sodexo has always piloted industry-leading best practices for sustainability, like the internship program and the Keep Local Farms initiative. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the great programs that we work on at UVM and to replicate them more broadly on a national level.”
To implement the program and track its progress, UVM has formed a “Real Food Working Group,” whose members include UVM students, faculty, and staff and staff from University Dining Services. The group will develop a comprehensive, multi-year plan for how the university will hit its ambitious new targets and report regularly to the president. The group will also work closely with faculty connected with UVM’s Food Systems Spire of Excellence.