130+ Universities Join Movement to Measure Sustainable Dining on Campus
As millions of students receive their college acceptance letters this month and prepare to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives, Real Food Challenge is proud to announce that 134 colleges and universities are now participating in a national, student-designed program—called The Real Food Calculator—to measure and report sustainable food in campus dining.
While quality of cafeteria food has long been a factor in students’ perceptions of campus life, a majority now include a concern for institutional sustainability as a factor in college decisions. “Increasingly we're finding businesses that understand millennials' desire for transparency, authenticity and honesty in marketing—especially when it comes to food,” explains Anim Steel, executive director of Real Food Generation, the program's sponsor. “What's missing are concrete tools and hard numbers to help institutions keep up with an evolving customer base. The Real Food Calculator fills that gap.”
The online tool allows schools to aggregate thousands of food purchasing records and assess their institution’s "real food" score. Student researchers then grade products against a comprehensive set of third party-verified standards for local, fair, ecologically sound and humane food. When completed, The Real Food Calculator offers concrete data on how a campus is currently supporting their community through their food choices—and how they can improve.
The program has won numerous accolades. David Schwartz, who helped develop the Calculator as an undergraduate at Brown University, was recently named one of Forbes 30 under 30 for Social Entrepreneurship, as well as honored by Variety Magazine and VH1 for his work. The Calculator has since been adopted nationwide.
University of Louisville Anthropology Professor Jeneen Wiche, herself a grass-fed livestock/poultry farmer, explains her motivation for joining the program: “The Calculator allows a behind the scenes glimpse of the food system that feeds the University of Louisville. Campus food is what fuels our students, but it can also help support entrepreneurial local food enterprises. The Calculator will allow us to applaud what is being done well and troubleshoot where we fall short. The students become the driving force behind reform.”
With the national rollout of the Real Food Calculator this year:
- 134 universities have joined the program—including Johns Hopkins University, Brown University, UC Berkeley, Indiana University and UNC Chapel Hill
- More than 600 student researchers have reviewed more than 84,297 unique products and $71,059,505 worth of campus food purchases to see if they meet the rigorous "real food" standards
- The average participating school spends $5.18 million on food each year, an average 15 percent of which currently qualifies as "real food"
- 22 schools who participate in the program have also signed the Real Food Campus Commitment—a pledge to increase their real food percentage to 20, 30 or 40 percent by 2020
“This has been an incredible learning experience for students and dining, alike,” said Anna Hankins, a freshman at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. “Using the Calculator, I can now tell you that 81 percent of my school’s seafood comes from sustainable fisheries. And we now know that, compared to other universities, we could source more fair trade items, such as rice—the item we buy the most of. A switch like that would have an exciting economic impact, as well as serve as a campus wide educational tool.”
The Real Food Calculator has been buoyed by the public endorsement of major food service companies Bon Appetit Management Co. and Sodexo USA, which together manage outsourced cafeterias at more than 700 colleges and universities nationwide. Chartwells, one of their primary competitors, has yet to endorse the program.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.