Fort Lewis College and its on-campus food provider, Sodexo, have committed to serving 20 percent “real food” by 2020.
While serving only 80 percent non-real food might not sound that ambitious, their goal and its potential impact are significant. First, their criteria for “real” food are fairly lofty: local, fair, ecological and humane. Second, right now, less than 5 percent of the food served at the college meets that definition.
The push to make the change is being driven by the FLC Environmental Center (EC), which last year conducted a line-by-line audit of Sodexo’s invoices to determine a baseline for its real food target. The invoices were from 2012. The EC expects to complete a review of 2013’s invoices by the end of the summer.
EC Coordinator Rachel Landis says that the Real Food Challenge is a national campaign that leverages the buying power of higher education.
“Universities also happen to be populated with incredibly impassioned students who want to see change,” Landis explains. She says 76 percent of FLC students surveyed named sustainable food as their top environmental priority
The Real Food Challenge provides a “calculator” to help institutions determine whether food meets the definition. Third-party certification of organic or free-trade status gives foods a green light. Containing high fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes disqualifies them. Landis says coffee and tea represent a significant proportion of what currently meets the real food definition at FLC.
A hurdle to getting more local food at the college is that there simply isn’t enough of it. “Our local food system cannot feed 10,300 people a week,” Landis says.
And there’s Sodexo’s corporate culture to overcome. Earning vendor status with the provider can take months. But Sodexo and the Environmental Center have been working together to provide monthly “chow downs” that feature local food. These have given the EC an opportunity to “figure out what [Sodexo’s] rules are so we can play by them,” Landis says.
She called this period a courtship and is confident the relationship will lead to the altar. “At my core, for better or worse, I’m an optimist,” she says.
Sodexo Executive Chef Pedro Ulibarri, who took over in September, said he’s not daunted by the 20 by 2020 goal. “That’s 6 years. If we can’t do that in 6 years, something’s wrong,” he says.