Real Food Challenge

The Real Food Challengeleverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair, and green food system.”

The Real Food calculator tracks Williams College’s food purchases over time, classifying each item as “real” or “conventional.” The goal of the Real Food Challenge is to procure at least 20% Real Food annually by 2020. In 2016-2017, the college procured 15% Real Food and was able to increase it to 18% in 2017-2018. 

Real Food is defined by four criteria for the purposes of the calculator:

  • Local and/or community based
  • Humane
  • Fair
  • Ecologically sound

In order to obtain results, it is necessary to go through the college’s purchasing history to look at each individual item. First, an item is classified according to food group (produce, meat, poultry, dairy, etc.). Next, it is checked whether or not it achieves the standards outlined for each defining real food category. This process sometimes involved calling distributors, manufacturers, and farms in order to find out more about their specific growing methods, labor practices, or third-party certifications.

After researching each item, each item is classified. If an item fits into at least one category, it is real food. If it qualifies for two or more categories, it is Real Food A (Real Food B being items that qualify for only one category).  All of this data is stored in a spreadsheet, which is helpful for determining which food groups Williams is doing especially well in purchasing sustainably, and which food groups need the most improvement. It is also valuable to see which specific aspect of “sustainability” Williams is most focused on—as determined by the prevalence of each local, ecological, fair, or humane qualification.