Growing Organic

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Occidental College’s Dining Services has surpassed its Real Food Campaign goal, increasing its purchases of "real food" –- food from local/community-based, ecologically sound and humane sources -- from 8 percent to 25 percent between 2010 and 2013. 

For the  2012-13 academic year, real food purchases jumped to 25 percent of spending, exceeding the Real Food Challenge goal of 20 percent. "We are thrilled to have exceeded the Real Food Challenge goals seven years early, but we won't stop here!" said Amy Munoz, director of Dining Services.

 

Occidental started to pursue the goals laid out by the Real Food Challenge in 2008, when the College’s first sustainability intern, Katie Presley '08, suggested the school get involved with the program.

"Since then we have kept successively better track of where our food comes from each year, and we strive to replace unsustainable sources whenever possible," said Dylan Bruce ’16, Dining Services’ current (and fourth) sustainability intern.  (The third, Emma Sorrell ‘13, was recently hired as Occidental’s first full-time sustainability coordinator.)

"Presley created a database and started tracking how much of what we purchased already met RFC criteria," said Munoz. That came to about 4 percent. The College doubled that number to 8 percent the following year. "Growth has been dramatic since then, as the entire department, including the Tiger Cooler, Coffee Cart and Green Bean, embraced the concept," Munoz said.

Produce was the easiest category to satisfy, Munoz said, because California is the nation's largest source of produce -- "much of it local and organic."

"We've gone from that ‘low hanging fruit’ to tackling more complex procurement issues, such as sustainable seafood and humane meat sourcing," she said.

The Real Food Challenge has recently come out with a new website and calculator, and the College is in the process of meeting their latest criteria, including a sustainability mission statement, a working group and an official institutional commitment. "There is a lot of extra bureaucracy that comes with the commitment, and campus dining needs to figure out how to balance that with our other needs -- we're a small department and the challenge can take a lot of time," Bruce said.

Still, Dining Services has set ambitious sustainable food goals for itself. By 2020, it plans to have:
• 40 percent Real Food
• 40 percent humane animal products/ecologically sound fish
• 50 percent local/ecologically sound produce
• Reduce dependence on plastic water bottles and decrease usage to under 50,000 bottles per year (currently at approximately 85,000/year)
• Purchase all coffee and chocolate from organic and/or fair trade certified sources.

In addition, in October, Dining Services is recognizing Food Justice Month. "The goal of the RFC is to switch over to a sustainable food chain, and the goal of Food Justice Month is about education to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles and policies," Bruce said. Dining Services is highlighting specific food-system sustainability issues with a series of four themed lunches every Friday during the month of October. Go here for more information.