University President Robert Weisbuch commits to increase amount of organic, locally grown, fair trade food on campus.

Drew University President Robert Weisbuch recently reaffirmed the school’s pledge to go green by becoming the second college president in the nation to sign the Real Food Commitment, a promise to increase the amount of healthy, eco-friendly fare served on campus.  To ensure that the university hits its target of offering 20 percent real food—defined as organic, locally grown, fair trade and humane—, students majoring in environmental studies and sustainability (ESS) are working to identify the sources and varieties of food currently available on campus.

Students for Sustainable Food, advised by Sarah Wald, assistant professor of English and ESS, were the first ones to approach Weisbuch about signing the commitment.  According to Weisbuch, the initiative seemed to complement the university’s other eco-friendly efforts—including its reduction in greenhouse gases as part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment—, making it seem like a natural step forward in the ongoing greening of Drew’s campus.

“Drew is leading the way among American colleges and universities in becoming a model of sustainability,” he said.  “The Real Food Commitment will catalyze improvements in the health of our ecosystem, bodies and local economy, and is part of that leadership.”

According to Wald, seniors in this spring’s ESS capstone course will measure the percentage of real food currently available at Drew by using the Real Food Calculator, a tool developed by The Food Project, Inc., which is the commitment’s sponsor.  She says a campus-wide presentation, scheduled for April, will show the students’ results based on universal criteria for what counts as real food.

“In order for local unprocessed food to be considered real, it must be grown on a small to medium farm that’s no more than 250 miles away from campus,” she said.  “Processed foods are considered real if at least 50 percent of their ingredients were grown within 250 miles and were processed by a local business.”

Caitlin Kennedy C’12, one of the ESS students working with the Real Food Calculator, explained that food sustainability broadly affects environmental and fiscal issues, including “transportation costs and emissions, environmental justice, and investments in community-based farms and small business.”

Having this first-hand knowledge of the importance of food sustainability, Kennedy says she can see the project’s educational benefits in addition to its environmental ones.

“Students using the Real Food Calculator are learning the environmental, social and health benefits of real food choices, and also how to communicate with and persuade relevant stakeholders,” she said.  “Initiative and leadership are critical in using this system.”—Michael Bressman