Real Food Challenge, Real Food Williams, and the Real Food Calculator

Anim SteelReal Food Update with Anim Steel ’94

October 3rd, at 7:30 p.m., in Paresky Theater

On October 3. 2012, students in Real Food Williams will present on their work to implement the Real Food Calculator at Williams. A panel discussion will follow, featuring Jacob Addelson ’14, Bob Volpi (Director of Williams College Dining Services), Morgan Hartman (of Black Queen Angus Farm), Stephanie Boyd (Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives), and Anim Steel ’94.

Real Food update posterAnim Steel is the founder of the Real Food Generation and is instrumental in developing its initiatives (including the Real Food Challenge). He is also the former Director of National Programs at The Food Project in Boston, Massachusetts. Anim holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a B.A. in Astrophysics and History from Williams College. Anim was a 1997 Coro Fellow in Public Affairs and is currently a Hunt Prime Movers Fellow. In 2010, his work on the Real Food Challenge earned an Echoing Green award for social entrepreneurship. Born in Ghana, Anim grew up in both West Africa and Washington, DC.

Real Food Williams implements the Real Food Calculator

Eirann Cohen
Eirann Cohen

by Eirann Cohen ’15
August 2012

Growing up with a garden, frequenting farmer’s markets with my family on weekends, and learning more about the practices of our nation’s industrial food system have spurred my strong desire to face food justice issues. But last fall, I put this mostly-passive interest into action when organization called the Real Food Challenge came to campus to spread the importance of sustainable food over Food Week. As part of the process of creating a chapter of the organization at Williams, I flew to Santa Cruz, California in February with Jacob Addelson to attend a national summit.  In California, we learned even more about the organization’s philosophy and goals—which is foremost for all of the nation’s colleges and universities to direct 20 percent of their food purchases to “real food.” One way to monitor the purchasing of real food is to run the Real Food Calculator.  This was the task I assumed this summer, as I was fortunate enough to intern with the Zilkha Center.

The calculator tracks Williams College’s food purchases over time, classifying each item as “real” or “conventional.” For the purposes of the calculator, Real Food is defined using four criteria: local and/or community based, humane, fair, and 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.  This part of the calculator was an incredibly enriching experience, as it required me to learn the nitty-gritty details of many types of food certifications, farming methods, and animal raising practices. One thing I learned is how some food labeling can be deceptive.  For example, the label “USDA Grassfed” is given to animals that consume a diet of grasses and silage.  However, this standard does not prohibit animal confinement or hormone and antibiotic administration. So meat that is USDA Grassfed could come from a steer that was never even allowed to step foot on a grass pasture.

After researching each item, I could begin to classify it. 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 extremely 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.

The calculator is quite an involved process, and so I was unfortunately not able to finish it this summer. But it was great to begin the process.  With the help of other students who are part of Real Food Williams, the goal is to have full calculator results by Thanksgiving.

Williams College Students Participate in the Real Food Challenge at the National Level

April 2012

Students gathered in March to begin a campus-wide discussion about how to improve the sustainability of food served at Williams. Soon after attending the national summit of the Real Food Challenge, Jacob Addelson ’14 and Erin Cohen ’15 have begun a campaign for on campus. The students write, “Coming out of this weekend, we are especially hopeful that we can increase cooperation among New England schools in our efforts to direct our institutional buying power towards real food.”

The Sustainable Food & Agriculture Program is working closely with individual students and student groups interested in improving the sustainability of food served on campus.

Read the full report here.