Earlier this month, the student-run Haverford food justice group ETHOS, which stands for “ethical, transparent, homegrown, organic, and sustainable,” found that 9% of the food served by the Dining Center falls under the ETHOS definition of “real food”: locally grown, equally-traded, equal trade, organic, and sustainable.
That figure was determined by a combined effort between ETHOS and the DC, which provided ETHOS with its purchase receipts for October and November 2012. That data was then plugged into a real food calculator designed by the Real Food Challenge, a nation-wide initiative led by college students to shift university food budgets away from industrial farming towards locally grown, ecologically healthy sources. Last winter, several ETHOS members attended a regional training for the Real Food Challenge, which encourages college campuses to commit to serving 20% real food by 2020.
“We took every purchase receipt from the D.C. for the months of October and November and entered every item, line by line, into an online calculator,” said Zoe McAlear ‘16, an ETHOS member. “We could input product information and pricing, and determine whether it fell under any of the real food characteristics.”
For ETHOS, founded in Fall 2012, 9% real food is an “exciting starting point” according to McAlear. However, according to Director of Dining Services Anthony Condo, the DC came up with a slightly higher figure. Their calculations concluded that the DC served 15%-16% real food.
“In any event, we know that we are not quite at the 20% mark,” Condo said.
Peer institutions that have signed the Real Food Challenge’s initiative include John Hopkins University, Wesleyan University, Oberlin College, Bard College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Vermont, University of California at Santa Cruz, and others. While The Real Food Challenge defines “real” food as local, ecologically sustainable, humane and ethical, ETHOS has developed its own terms for greening Haverford’s daily grub.
“ETHOS has somewhat rejected this definition: we think that there is a lot of food that is “real” that is not in these categories,” Ethan Adelman-Sil ’16 said. “Furthermore, implying that the Dining Center produces primarily ‘fake food’ is disrespectful to the staff, especially in the kitchen, who spend a lot of time preparing meals for the majority of the campus.”
In addition to helping the Dining Center meet the 20% real food goal by 2020, ETHOS has a broader mission at Haverford.
“ETHOS is not defined by the Real Food Challenge,” said fellow ETHOS member Adriana Cvitkovic ’16. “So once we reach our goal with that initiative we will look for other areas of Haverford that could be more thoughtful, intentional, and just with regard to food.”
Moving forward, the group is looking to increase their presence on campus, while coming up with cost-effective ways for the DC to include more “real food” in the meal plan. ETHOS recognizes the cost limitations of bringing more real food to campus; a concern felt by the DC as well.
“The monetary costs are yet to be determined, but everything that falls into this “real food” category certainly costs more money,” Condo explained. “We are committed to this cause for as much as our current budget will allow.”
ETHOS has suggested that reevaluating areas of the menu, such as the meat purchases, may result in a cost-neutral way to raise the DC’s real food percentage.
“If we purchased slightly less meat and reinvested it into a variety of non-meat options we can make a significant difference in terms of our percentage,” Adelman-Sil said. “This would serve the double purpose of increasing the amount of ETHOS food and diversity in food selection.”
However, budgetary concerns aren’t the only obstacle in providing students with more real food. Availability is an issue as well. Often, the vendors that are able to supply “real foods” aren’t able to meet the demands of the DC.
“An example would be a local farm used for purchasing,” said Condo. “From what we have seen, these smaller operations cannot guarantee the quantities that we need on a regular basis.”
Both ETHOS and the DC remain optimistic about bringing real food to Haverford in a cost-effective, sustainable way. Recent successes include finding a local vendor that can provide the DC with fresh chicken.
“We just recently started using a vendor who was able to source local chicken for our Local Dinner [on April 10] at a very comparable cost,” said Condo. “If the pricing and availability are consistent, this is a no-brainer.”
For ETHOS, instances such as these provide hope for the future.
“This just illustrates that it’s not impossible to make these changes,” Cvitkovic said. “We just need to find the right sources and make the choice.”