The Campus United Will Never Be Defeated! Visions of Real Food and Real Power from the RFC Summit

“Is the food you’re serving changing people’s lives? If not, then you need to make a change.” Last Friday, Johns Hopkins University food service worker Marie Wilson issued this challenge to a room packed with college students at Breaking Ground 2013, Real Food Challenge’s national summit.

Coming from over 70 schools nationwide, these 200+ students gathered in Baltimore to tackle just this question: what impact is their schools’ food having on their bodies and their communities, and how are they going to change that status quo?

Here’s what we learned about how the Real Food Challenge community is answering these tough questions:

1. University food service is big business, but students have big power. Universities spend over $5 billion on food each year, and students are uniquely positioned to hold their schools accountable in spending that money responsibly. In fact, they already are! Since last year’s summit, RFC students have secured 10 schools’ signatures on the Real Food Campus Commitment (pledging to purchase at least 20% real food by 2020) and have increased their total amount of dining dollars shifted to real food to over $50 million.

2. Organize, organize, organize. These impressive, system-changing victories are only possible when students organize together at their individual schools and across the country. At Breaking Ground 2013, students connected with unlikely allies from all over the country and prepared to organize in new and increasingly coordinated ways, forming resilient “cluster campaigns” based on city, region, and food service provider.

3. Make coolers full of kale. If our struggle for food justice is to succeed, our means of organizing must reflect the ends we seek to create. A key part of this equation is fueling our bodies with delicious real food, and the offerings at Breaking Ground 2013 did not disappoint. The highlight: a seemingly bottomless jumbo cooler full of local, organic kale salad at Saturday night’s dinner.

4. Engage with voices across the food system. Real food advocates from throughout the food chain were present in full force at Breaking Ground 2013 – from Chesapeake-area farmers to farmworker rights organizers. In particular, several workers from the Real Food Real Jobs campaign added their voices and their expertise on the food service industry to the summit’s conversations about food justice. JHU worker Marie Wilson told students she was excited to work with them, saying that they’re the reason she cares so much about real food: “I’m interested in sustainable food because I want to give students the same food I try to give my family: real home-cooked meals.”

5. “The campus united will never be defeated!” Real food systems change happens when people unite across traditional boundaries and fight together as whole communities. Fresh off an historic victory at American University where students and workers organized together, AU cafeteria worker Christine Hamlett-Williams urged students to build relationships with workers on their campuses: “Get to know us workers. We are here for you…The campus united will never be defeated!”

We’re excited to see what RFC cooks up in 2013!

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