CDAE, NFS, and Food Systems Students and Faculty Publish on UVM's Real Food Challenge

Food–in all its forms, from farms, to value added products–is inherent to Vermont's culture; so it is fitting that UVM is part of the Real Food Challenge national campaign that aims to "shift 20 percent of existing university food budgets in the U.S. (equivalent to approximately $1 billion) from conventional agricultural products to local, ecologically sound, fair, and humane products by 2020."

UVM was the fifth school to sign onto the Real Food Challenge, and they met it.  Three years ahead of schedule.  Their new goal is 25 percent by 2020.

It's been an ongoing push, starting in 2008 and including students in the Real Food Challenge network, dining directors, financial and budget managers, farmers, and other campus stakeholders.  Over time they've secured $60 million worth of pledges to purchase more local, fair, sustainable, and humane food.  42 schools are on board and students at 236 others are tracking food purchases using the Real Food Calculator, a tool provided by the Real Food Challenge network.

An attractive public-facing campaign can often provide fodder for academics working behind the scenes collecting data, surveying stakeholders, and running stastistical binary logistic models to determine which student characteristics affect or predict one's willingness to pay for this new "real" designation on campus food.

A paper published in the Journal of Agricultural Human Values–a high-impact food systems journal–led by Sodexo Food Systems Fellow Jennifer Porter and supported in authorship by CDAE faculty David Conner and Chair Jane Kolodinsky as well as Nutrition and Food Systems professor Amy Trubek found that student characteristics and attitudes significantly influence their willingness to pay. Specifically, gender, residency, college, and attitudes about price and origin of food are significant predictors.

In a quintessential example of service learning in CDAE, the researchers used data collected in CDAE 250: Applied Research Methods taught by David Conner to run their logistic models in order to produce their findings.

"Values are often considered to be enduring, but college can be a “coming-of-age” time in students’ lives when they begin to question their values and beliefs." The authors write. "As such, universities may be particularly effective places to influence students’ values surrounding food. Our results indicate that students who highly value the price of food are less likely to prefer “real” food. It may be quite difficult to change the importance of price in students’ decision making, given constrained budgets. Therefore, it may be more realistic to influence the importance of the origin of food in students’ decision-making processes."

"Seeing this article published makes me happy in many ways," notes David Conner, CDAE faculty member. "First, it is a great culmination of the graduate student mentoring process. Second, it utilizes data gathered by a service-learning class. Finally, it helps inform an important and highly visible food systems development effort on campus."


Daniel John Kirk