Real Food Challenge eyes Yale

Susannah Albert-Chandhok ’14 is striving to get universities like Yale to allocate more money to “real” food, along with coordinators around the country.

Albert-Chandhok is a grassroots leader of the Real Food Challenge — a nationwide campaign founded in the fall of 2008. Though members of the campaign said Yale is a leader in food equality and sustainability, the University has not yet adopted the Challenge.

Real Food Challenge Campaign Coordinator David Schwartz said that the organization aims to have $1 billion of the $5 billion that universities spend on food every year directed to “real” food — food that is produced locally, humanely, sustainably and economically fairly ­— within nine years. But, he added, this goal is only a small part of a larger vision.

“The ultimate goal is that this becomes the norm, not the exception,” Schwartz said.

Taking on the Challenge means using what O’Donnell and other organization leaders call the “Real Food Calculator.” The calculator gathers assessments from Real Food Challenge partner organizations, such as its Boston-based parent organization The Food Project. These organizations test various foods to make sure they fit the “real food” criteria before giving them either a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.” The more “thumbs ups” a food has, the more “real” it is.

Erin O’Donnell, the Real Food Challenge’s Northeast regional field organizer, said the campaign first began looking to establish a presence at Yale when Albert-Chandhok approached it.

But the Challenge had been aware of Yale’s potential since 2008, said O’Donnell, adding that Yale is viewed as a pioneer in sustainability and food equity among Eastern universities because of its Sustainable Food Project, which manages the Yale Farm and collaborates on the University’s sustainable dining program.

As a “grassroots leader” in the Challenge, Albert-Chandhok is the sole Yalie working toward its expansion on the University’s campus. She said she sees Yale’s rival schools’ food sustainability successes as a factor that will motivate Yale to take on the Challenge.

“Harvard has done some really amazing things related to sustainability,” she said, adding that she hopes this will motivate Yalies to “step up.”

Schwartz said the campaign has already succeeded in securing $35 million towards “real foods” of the $5 billion total that colleges and universities across the nation spend on food every year. But he added that schools like Yale, which has yet to implement the Real Food Calculator system, are not factored into the $35 million, despite the fact that Yale Dining has already committed to relying more heavily on local and organic foods.

Albert-Chandhok said she hopes other Yale students will join her in the Challenge soon.

“If you interviewed me in a few months, there would hopefully be more people like me for you to talk to,” she said.

Educational institutions account for roughly 30 percent of food industry profit in the U.S. every year.

Comments