Student group aims to increase proportion of ‘real food’ at Northwestern

Peter Kotecki, Reporter

Real Food at NU, a student group that aims to increase the percentage of fairly and sustainably produced food on campus, is working with Northwestern’s food provider to determine how much “real food” is served in NU dining halls.

The student organization is the NU chapter of the Real Food Challenge, which strives to raise the proportion of food that fits its definition of “real” at university campuses around the country.

Miranda Cawley, co-director of Real Food at NU, said “real food” is any item that is “ecologically sound, community-based, humanely produced or fair trade.”

The Medill junior said Real Food at NU emphasizes community-based food companies not owned by corporations and instead rooted in local economies.

Weinberg junior Renee Schaaf, the lead analyst for Real Food at NU, said she is working with the University’s food provider, Sodexo, to run the real food calculator. The calculator is a “Web-based platform that the Real Food Challenge has designed to calculate real food percentages in institutions throughout the U.S. in a way that is standardized,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf said she is trying to determine what percentage of NU’s food fits the Real Food Challenge guidelines to convince University President Morton Schapiro to sign a pledge for NU to purchase at least 20 percent of its food from what the national organization considers local, fair, ecologically sound or humane sources by 2020.

“We are just really happy that we are able to work so productively with Sodexo,” Cawley said. “We hope that after the calculation is done, we can see where we stand and move forward toward 20 percent real food by 2020.”

Schaaf said it took a while for Real Food at NU and Sodexo to form concrete plans.

“They wanted to do some research before they moved forward with running the calculator to make sure that it was going to add something to what they were already doing,” Schaaf said.

Rachel Tilghman, marketing manager for Sodexo at NU, said she spoke to Colleen Fitzgerrell, co-director of Real Food at NU, to understand more about the national program and the student initiatives behind it. Tilghman said NU Dining uses its own calculator to track local spending.

“We wanted to do some research to understand what the Real Food Challenge is, what Real Food at NU’s goals are for this campus specifically and then also to see what the differences between our calculator and Real Food’s are,” Tilghman said.

Tilghman said both Sodexo and Real Food at NU’s calculators will be evaluated based on what makes the most sense for the campus.

“We haven’t come to a definitive conclusion in that, but we will be using both calculators simultaneously to give us the best picture of how NU can continue to improve our local programs,” Tilghman said.

Fitzgerrell said she and Cawley met with Sodexo in August to discuss accessing Sodexo’s purchasing records and running them through the real food calculator. Fitzgerrell, a Weinberg senior, said this calculator is the ultimate metric for determining the percentage of “real food” purchases on a college campus.

Fitzgerrell said she and Cawley had trouble contacting Sodexo at first.

“We finally got to talk to some real decision makers in February,” Fitzgerrell said. “Sodexo has been very helpful. We are running the calculator now, and it is very exciting.”

Tilghman said she is pleased by the collaboration between Real Food and Sodexo.

“I’m always excited when students are passionate about their dining program because it really should be shaped by students, for the students, and anything that we can do to collaborate on that process is good,” Tilghman said.

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