Campus dining gets more sustainable

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Alexandria Huber (right), Jessie Robinson (center), and Jillian Tillett (left) are student interns working with Carolina Dining Services. They work to calculate the percentage of real food that Carolina Dining Services purchases and distributes in the UNC campus dining facilities. This internship was created four years ago, and this is the first time the calculations will be done for the spring semester.

This semester, interns determined 26 percent of the food served in Lenoir and Rams Head Dining Halls is “real food,” as part of the UNC Real Food Calculator’s first year-round assessment.

Every fall for the last four years, the Real Food Calculator interns track all Carolina Dining Services purchases for a month and then assess the percentage that meet the criteria for “real food:” local and community-based, fair, humane and ecologically sound.

This year’s interns — Jessica Robinson , Alexandria Huber and Jill Tillett — will present their results on May 5.

The calculator was developed in 2010 by student group Fair, Local, Organic Food to help quantify how well the dining halls meet their food sustainability goals. The criteria are based on the Real Food Challenge , a national campaign to move university meals away from industrial and processed products.

In fall 2010, only 13 percent of the food met at least one qualification. The next year, the Real Food Calculator surpassed 20 percent.

The interns received invoices from CDS at the end of February, and finished inputting and researching the data last Wednesday.

During former Chancellor Holden Thorp’s tenure, RFC launched a campaign to get him and CDS to sign off on the Real Food Challenge. Though he did not sign the initiative, CDS and RFC have moved forward successfully using only the calculator.

“To some degree, we feel that (the Real Food Challenge) is obsolete, because we had FLO,” Tillett said. “We feel that’s our food group on this campus that influences the dining hall purchases anyway.”

So far, recommendations from the 2013 Real Food Calculator have resulted in CDS outsourcing to many different producers, such as a switch from PET Milk to Maola this year. Tillett said that CDS has also started using organic Stonyfield Yogurt rather than Yoplait as a result of suggestions from last year.

Huber said that the RFC recommendations do not substantially impact the cost of CDS’ food purchases.

“CDS will only switch purchases if it’s going to increase our (real food) percentage by 1 percent, and if it won’t increase the budget cost,” Huber said. “Otherwise, that purchase transfer won’t be made.”

Robinson said that UNC is one of the largest universities using the calculator.

“Other schools have been pushing for more,” Robinson said. “But it’s a lot easier for smaller schools. It’s remarkable we have gotten this far.”

Sophomore Basil Kazi said he thinks campus food has been a little better this year, but was also surprised by the lack of real food.

“The fact that it’s a public university makes me feel like that number should be higher,” he said. “The fact that it’s a public university, it gets public funds, it gets tax-payer money — it makes me feel like 26 percent could be a little higher.”

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