Students want fair trade food

Hundreds of students signed a petition supporting the use of sustainable food at the U.

Attendees fill the Great Hall of Coffman Memorial Union during Food Day UMN in 2013.

Courtesy of Emily Bruns

Attendees fill the Great Hall of Coffman Memorial Union during Food Day UMN in 2013.

Melissa Steinken

Some students want the University of Minnesota to play a bigger role in persuading other schools to use more sustainable and fair trade food by 2020. 
An alliance of groups from the city of Minneapolis and the University wants to convince the school to join more than 30 colleges nationwide that have signed on to the Real Food Challenge’s goal to have 20 percent of the nation’s campus dining hall food budgets used towards locally sourced, ecologically sound food by 2020.
Student-conducted research found that 7 percent of the 17th Avenue Hall’s food in September 2013 qualified as “real food.” 
“The University of Minnesota has the purchasing power to dramatically impact the economic and environmental health of the region,” an Oct. 14 letter from the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Policy Council to the University said. The council, along with the University of Minnesota’s Real Food Challenge and U Students Like Good Food, is leading
the effort. “Increased local purchases from small and mid-sized family farmers will support businesses … reduce the U’s carbon footprint … produce healthier food and reduce local food security risks, such as price inflation and food contamination.” 
In the last year, 1,600 people have signed a petition and 10 student groups at the University have endorsed the proposal.
“Our commitment isn’t just about locally grown foods,” said Karen Weldon, a Real Food Challenge volunteer organizer. “It’s more centered on fair trade and those four categories because realistically you’re not going to be able to get things like coffee locally grown in Minnesota.”
Criteria for “real food” also includes whether it is ecologically sound and prepared in a fair and humane way, said Evelina Knodel, president of U Students Like Good Food. In order to qualify, only one of the categories has to be met, she said.
But moving the initiative forward at the University has been difficult because Aramark, which provides the school’s dining services, has been unresponsive to the group’s efforts to reach out, she said.
“We haven’t been getting much communication from Aramark in the past few months, and that’s what we need from them,” she said. Aramark and University Dining Services could not be reached for comment. 
While regions of country like the Northeast and West Coast have more openly embraced the concept, areas like the Midwest and the South are lagging behind, Knodel said.
“Already there are local farmers that would love to source the ‘U,’ ” she said. “They’re struggling in Minnesota and nationwide.”Shane Stennes, sustainability coordinator at the University, said that in the past, UDS has used locally grown food produced by University students.
“We have similar objectives with Real Food Challenge to improve sustainable food,” he said. “But there is a difference between our definitions of what is real food and what is not.”
In 2013, University Dining Services purchased almost 530,000 pounds of local produce and almost 130,000 pounds of local meat. 
Despite that, in 2012 UDS received an overall sustainability rating of 4.53 out of a possible 8.5 through the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, which measures the sustainability of colleges and universities. 
U Students Like Good Food and University of Minnesota’s Real Food Challenge have also met with the University Senate and Minnesota Student Association to pass a resolution for sustainable food practices, Knodel said.