CSU, News

CSULB takes on the Real Food Challenge

In an effort to promote a more sustainable style of food, Cal State Long Beach is currently in the process of achieving a new food policy to increase spending on locally grown, ecologically friendly produce.

After California’s struggle to combat record droughts and wildfires in 2014, the California State University Board of Trustees approved the Sustainable Practices Policy, granting more than $100 million to the 23 campuses.

Consisting of over seven restaurants and three residential dining halls, the 49er Shops has been in charge of attaining the university’s sustainable food goal.

“The outcome is to provide a really diverse offering of food for our students that they can also be assured that they’re sustainable and that we’re supporting the local community,” said Kierstin Stickley, director of marketing and communications.

Partnering with the Real Food Challenge, a national student group aimed at providing campuses with humane food, the university plans to meet the food guidelines within the Sustainable Practices Policy.

The plan will focus on nine practices aimed at decreasing the use of resources including green building, clean energy, transportation, climate protection,
sustainable operations, waste reduction and recycling, environmentally preferable
purchasing, sustainable foodservice and sustainable water systems.

Through Real Food Challenge, Cal State Long Beach has committed to the goal of increasing food spending toward local farms and food businesses that meet the organization’s standards to 20 percent by 2020.

However, the guidelines for the challenge have strict rules and regulations for products to qualify. Produce must be bought within a 250 mile range, and meat must be in 500 mile radius.

“For every ingredient that we use, we have to track it back to its original source,” Stickney said.

Using the Real Food Calculator, a tool developed by students from multiple universities for tracking institutional purchasing, schools can view their progress in attaining ecologically sound and locally-grown products.

“It is the most robust and comprehensive [food] calculating tool that exists,” said Estefanía Narváez, a representative with Real Food. “It’s the only auditing tool out there where a third party member is the [developer].”

Other guidelines include a requirement that companies must gross less than $50 million a year, cannot have any violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and must be a privately or cooperatively owned enterprise.

“Even though places like Starbucks get their coffee locally, they still don’t qualify because of their income,” said Nan Yao, student researcher for Real Food. “There are actually a lot of companies that are doing a good job in sustainability. They’re just not following all of the [campaign] guidelines.”

Maintaining all these guidelines has proven difficult for dining halls, and can become costly when factoring in the numerous food handling licenses required.

“If we continue with these prices and following these guidelines, we’re going to have to charge more for student housing,” said Kelly Walsh, supervisor at Beachside Dining.

To avoid increasing prices for students, many schools have opted to tweak the Real Food standards in order to make their own goals affordable and attainable.

“A lot of the guidelines are pretty much unachievable,” said Alfredo Macias, director of residential dining. “So [other schools] are slightly changing a few of the parameters.”

Hunter Lee | Daily 49er
Many students rely on the dining halls for healthy and nutritious meals throughout the day.

Under the school’s own modified guidelines, the university has achieved 23 percent real food, though this would still not pass under the food policy because it does not follow the exact standards.

“With our guidelines, we’re at 23 percent and all we did was take off the financial and ownership [regulations],” said Walsh. “But they stayed within the local area of the 250 or 500 mile mark.”

Macias is confident that in the coming years, more companies will shift their models and aim to supply more locally grown and safe products.

“More and more people are wanting sustainable foods,” Macias said. “So as time goes on, the prices are going lower because [suppliers] are realizing it’s easier to manufacture.”

49er Shops is focusing its efforts first on providing the residential dining halls with better food options, because that is where residential students get most essential meals.

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