Written by Hanna Lee
David Schwartz grew up in a household that wasnâ€™t talking about food politics or farming. It wasnâ€™t until Schwartzâ€™s family relocated from inner city Boston to a suburb that he realized the disparities between the types of food available in his two different neighborhoods. In the city, it was hard to find a grocery store near his house or school, but the suburbs were filled with farmerâ€™s markets and local grocery stores.
The one unifying theme for Schwartz between the two settings was the poor quality of the food served at school. â€śEveryone can relate with being served mystery meat in their cafeteria,â€ť reflects Schwartz. â€śSerendipitously, I got involved with urban farming as a summer job. I started to realize agriculture and food production really needed to change, and how it effects all of us so deeply.â€ť
Schwartz joined with leaders from The Food Project and the California Student Sustainability Coalition to found the Real Food Challenge. The goal was to to leverage the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair and green food system. He understood the desire of many young people to involve themselves in food issues on their college campuses. The Real Food Challengeâ€™s primary campaign is to shift $1 billion of current university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food towards real food: local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources, by 2020. Â The Real Food Challenge defines the term â€śreal foodâ€ť as: â€śfood which truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth.Â It is a food system–from seed to plate–that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability.â€ť
In 2007, The Real Food Challengeâ€™s first food summit took place before the organization was truly established. Students from over 60 colleges and universities showed up to show their support. â€śI was so surprised to see all of these people come out of the woodwork,â€ť recalls Schwartz. â€śThis movement is only growing, and young people are really at the forefront.â€ť
The Real Food Challenge mission is to educate and build a movement of advocates in thousands of campuses across the country.Â The organization offers regional training opportunities where students learn practical skills to communicate effectively about food issues to others. The result: shifting university policy in order to evoke change throughout the rest of society.
In the fall, the organization schedules a day of action. Â On October 24th, students across the country send a message to their school communities about the importance of real food. Participants are asked to send in photo petitions by creating signs and props for their peers.
â€śItâ€™s all about action and education,â€ť explains Schwartz. â€śThroughout the school year, we road trip to campuses and help them set up meetings with university directors, farmers and cafeteria workers to make this change happen.â€ťÂ It is a grassroots leadership project for students to lead the way towards healthy and sustainable eating on their campuses.
According to Schwartz, a university can shift a million dollars to local farmers and fair food businesses over the course of a few years by making a commitment to provide real food to its community. â€śThe impact can be really huge,â€ť says Schwartz. â€śOver 300 institutions already have college farms, fair trade initiatives, or farm-to-cafeteria programs from our efforts, and the number is growing every day.â€ť
Schwartz points out that convincing large universities to change their policies isnâ€™t always easy. He advises youth to never take no for an answer. â€śOften in our society young people are innovative people, but they are typically put on the sidelines and characterized as naĂŻve and not understanding how the world works,â€ť states Schwartz. â€śBut really, the world isnâ€™t working very well right now so these fresh ideas are really exciting. Donâ€™t be afraid to think big and to get creative.â€ť
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