CMC and the Real Food Challenge

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(This column by Patrick Staib was published in the November 6, 2017 issue of the Steamboat Today.)

In April 2014, Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs students and administration signed a commitment to transition our dining services to 20 percent Real Food by the year 2020, making CMC students and Sodexo, our food service provider, part of a nationwide, student-led effort called the Real Food Challenge (realfoodchallenge.org). This year that commitment has extended to all three of CMC’s residential campuses. CMC students and food service providers have an important opportunity to engage in a nationwide effort toward better-quality campus food and a healthier food system.

The Real Food Challenge Network is actively working to shift $1 billion of current university food budgets toward real food nationwide. It began in 2011 with seven participating universities. Today, over 40 colleges and universities are on board as well as the entire University of California and the California State University systems.

CMC’s Real Food Commitment calls for procurement of “Real Food:” food that is local, ecologically sound, humanely raised and fair to food workers. This approach considers the farmers, workers and food chain employees, and embraces consumers’ needs for culturally appropriate and nutritious foods. It is an attempt to reconfigure campus-based food service under humane treatment of land and livestock while prioritizing local economies through reducing the distance that food travels and foods produced with synthetic inputs.

By signing on to the Real Food Commitment, CMC has agreed to increase the procurement of Real Food for our dining services. We have also committed to running a transparent report and tracking system, the Real Food Calculator. This calculator records and tracks the amount of food purchased over the academic year and scores it along a set of guidelines known as the Real Food Standards 2.0. CMC and Sodexo also plan to establish a Real Food working group that convenes student leaders and food service operators working toward increased real food procurement. Additionally, we are dedicated to making our processes public and transparent while raising awareness and generating support for this effort.

This process is an ideal endeavor for students in CMC’s Bachelor of Arts in sustainability studies program. It is a strong synthesis of food system research, community collaboration and data management. The Real Food Calculator requires student researchers to enter purchasing data and research brands, origins and food service providers.

This semester, CMC students in the Foodshed Sustainability course are using the Real Food Calculator to process data and determine the proportion of fair, humane, local and natural food purchases. Our class is also researching student interest and preferences toward sustainable food across CMC’s multiple campuses. We intend to gauge the overall percentage of real food offerings at CMC Steamboat this fall and throughout the college by this summer. Students can then further research replacement brands and products that will bring us closer to our goal of 20 percent real food by 2020.

To learn more about the Real Food Challenge at CMC contact Patrick Staib, Ph.D., associate professor of social sciences, at pstaib@coloradomtn.edu or 970-870-4448.