Student study puts Drew ahead in its goal to provide more locally grown, Fair Trade-certified, ecologically sound and humane food

If you dine on campus you might think you know what’s on your plate. But the findings of a class of Environmental Studies & Sustainability majors who spent the spring researching Drew’s food supply might surprise you.

Professor Sarah Wald’s senior capstone course set out to determine how much of Commons fare is “real food”—defined as locally grown, Fair Trade-certified, ecologically sound or humane.

The students reported highlights of their research this week to a packed lecture room in the Hall of Sciences, revealing that 21.2 percent of dining service provider Aramark’s offerings qualified as real food. That figure puts the university ahead of its stated goal. Last fall Drew became the second U.S. college to pledge that 20 percent of its campus food supply would consist of real food by 2020.

But the students also reported that nearly all of Drew’s real food was baked goods; that the percentage of real produce was just 11.2; and that there were no coffee or dairy products that qualified as real food. The students reported that 51 percent of Drew’s foods contained what they deemed unhealthy ingredients, such as trans fats, nitrates and the artificial sweetener aspartame.

Wald acknowledged there was room for improvement, but she praised the university’s commitment to expanding its real-food offerings. “Students, faculty, administrators, staff and Dining Services are all working together to make Drew a real-food leader,” she said.

Students modeled their analysis of Drew’s food based on a system employed by the Food Project in Boston, which is running a national campaign to shift $1 billion in university food budgets away from industrial agriculture and junk food. Junior Caitlin Kennedy, who took part in the survey, said getting information from vendors was a laborious process. “We’d go on their web site, study the company and their values. Then we’d call and ask, ‘Are you organic?’ and ‘Do you contract with local farmers?’” she said. “They were not always willing to share.”

Junior Matt Boudreau, a member of Students for Sustainable Food at Drew, said interest in real food is building on campus. “The more we get the word out, the more people are interested,” he said.

The class made a series of recommendations for upgrading food sustainability at Drew. Some of the proposals, such as building connections with local organic farms and replacing huge producers like Del Monte or Tyson, could be enacted fairly quickly. Others, such as developing a farm program, are longer term. The full list of recommendations can be found in the group’s 65-page report, to be posted on the Sustainability Committee’s U-KNOW web site.—Mary Jo Patterson