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Real food – sustainable, human and socially equitable

SOU exceeding expectations in Real Food Challenge

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University joined universities across the country last year in working toward sustainable food practices by participating in the Real Food Challenge. Now that a year has passed, statistics show that SOU is exceeding expectations.

SOU joined more than 40 U.S. universities and four university systems by joining the Real Food Challenge, a student-founded activist organization dedicated to supporting and creating ecologically sustainable, human and socially equitable food systems.

When President Linda Schott signed the “SOU Real Food Campus Commitment,” she pledged that at least 20 percent of SOU’s food budget would be Real Food – created through sustainable, human and equitable systems – by 2023.

SOU also committed to establishing a transparent reporting system and filing annual progress reports to evaluate where the SOU Real Food Challenge team should focus. The data of the first year’s budget was recently released, which has been organized by category and color-coded for easy comparison.

Bar graph of SOU's real food by category

The bar graph shows percentages of SOU’s overall food budget by categories (in brown), and the percentage of the overall food budget that Real Food accounts for in each category (green). For instance, produce makes up 13.1 percent of the overall food budget, and the produce that qualifies as Real Food accounts for 3.2 percent of the overall budget. The Real Food percentages from all of the categories add up to 9.4 percent of the university’s overall food budget – nearly halfway to the university’s goal of 20 percent by 2023.

Pie chart of real food at SOU, across all categories

All of that progress was made in a single year of the five-year challenge, and even more changes have been made to how the school purchases coffee, produce and grocery items since this data was collected.

By the end of the spring term 2020, SOU’s Real Food Challenge team will be able to compare the changes they’ve made across multiple years to see how quickly they’re reaching the 20 percent goal. The Real Food Challenge team’s student leaders, Jamie Talarico and Jessica Zuzack, can be reached via their email for questions about the program.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

SOU-Real Food-Linda Schott

SOU first in Oregon to accept “Real Food Challenge”

Southern Oregon University officially joined other universities across the country in working toward sustainable food practices when President Linda Schott signed the “SOU Real Food Campus Commitment” this morning.

“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to all who will be doing this work on behalf of the university,” the president told a group of students and staff affiliated with SOU’s Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center (ECOS). “My job is the easy one, just signing this.”

SOU became the first Oregon university to join the “Real Food Challenge” by pledging to support ecologically sustainable, humane and socially equitable food systems. The university agreed that at least 20 percent of its food budget by 2023 will be spent on “real food” rather than unhealthy products or those produced by industrial farms.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Perkinson, who co-signed the document with President Schott and student leaders of the project, congratulated the students for their perseverance in what has been a lengthy process. “There’s so much all of you do to make a difference,” he said.

SOU joined more than 40 U.S. universities and four university systems – including both the University of California and California State University systems – by participating in the student-led Real Food Challenge. The movement’s goal is to commit $1 billion of the annual food budgets of U.S. universities to real food.

The Real Food Challenge was founded in 2007 by a group of student activists, national food movement leaders and higher education sustainability experts. It is now a self-funded project of TSNE MissionWorks, a New England organization that partners with various nonprofits.

Jill Smedstad, the university’s environmental and community engagement coordinator, said Friday’s signing marked a transition from “the campaign mode to the implementation mode” of the Real Food Challenge.

SOU committed to establishing a transparent reporting system and filing an annual progress report to evaluate it food purchasing practices; to create a food systems working group that will develop a “real food policy” and multi-year action plan; and to increasing awareness of ecologically sustainable, humane and socially equitable food systems.

Progress toward the project’s long-term goals is expected to begin immediately. Within a month, the university will be expected to complete a baseline food survey. Food service providers, distributors and others will be notified within three months that future contract terms will need to align with SOU’s new real food policy and multi-year action plan.