Real Food Town Hall sparks discussion about food on campus

Laura Humes, ’16, was involved in planning and organizing the Real Food Town Hall, along with the other members of the Food Hub. This article was written to spread the word about the Real Food Town Hall to those who weren’t there.

Over one hundred students and community members gathered last Thursday in Weyerhaeuser Chapel for the Real Food Town Hall, an engaging discussion about Macalester’s food policy and how this policy impacts community food systems here in Minnesota.

The Real Food Town Hall, organized by members of the Food Hub, a student-run food-based intentional living space, came about as a way to gather student and community member input on Macalester’s brand new food policy, which will be adopted by the college at the end of the academic year.

In 2012, Macalester committed to increasing ecologically sound, fair, just and community-based food purchasing to 30 percent. The new food policy, drafted by Karen Weldon ’14, commits Macalester to several other goals in addition to meeting purchasing targets. “Having the Real Food Action Plan provides Macalester a way to systematically set goals and evaluate progress on food justice and sustainability on campus,” Weldon explained.

An all-encompassing document, the food policy commits Macalester to providing healthy and culturally appropriate food options, ensuring fair labor practices for dining service employees, committing to environmental sustainability through waste reduction and efficiency initiatives, creating opportunities for students to explore food systems in their academics and co-curricular activities and engaging in the community outreach, as well as tracking progress towards these goals.

At the Real Food Town Hall, students, staff and community members gathered to review the document. In attendance were representatives from Centro Campesino, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), farmers and restaurateurs from around the state and staff members from Macalester’s own Health and Wellness Center and Sustainability Office.

“The Real Food Town Hall included stakeholders from across the food movement. The event brought farmers, students, staff, NGOs (non-government organizations) and state government officials all into the same room,” said Lily Alexander ’14, one of the lead organizers for the event.

“If we set the precedent that the community should be involved when the food policy is still in its nascent stages, then hopefully this community involvement will carry through as we begin to implement the policy as well,” she said.

The event opened with a panel discussion focused on the importance of policy as a tool for creating positive change. Then, participants broke into smaller groups to discuss how various components of the food system—including producers, consumers, the planet and communities—were represented adequately in Macalester’s food policy. Finally, the event culminated with a local food tasting featuring ten local restaurants, including Wolf Honey Farms, Grand Ole Creamery, Gandhi Mahal, Trotter’s and Common Roots Café.

Zack Avre ’14, commented on the way in which the event created a space for dialogue. “It was well organized and created an inclusive space for students and community members to share their perspectives and brainstorm potential next steps for the Real Food commitment,” he said.

“I was most excited to see where the Real Food movement is headed,” said Avre. “I helped approve funding for the event through MCSG and have friends involved in the planning, so it was exciting to support them and learn more about the food system here at Mac. Even though I’ll be graduating soon, I enjoyed taking the time to be intentional about my place in the food cycle,” Avre said.

Ernesto Vélez of Centro Campesino spoke on the panel. Vélez emphasized that policy “sets a standard from which you can move forward,” but that the adoption of any policy requires hard work to move it forward and ensure that it is meeting its goals.

In terms of implementing Macalester’s own food policy, Vélez spoke to the importance of being forward-thinking. He compared adopting a policy to commitment in a relationship, asking “You have to ask, where will we be five years from now? Are we getting another car or are we talking babies?”

Now that the policy has been adopted, the real work will begin to maintain and improve it.

Weldon expressed excitement about the new connections made through the Real Food Town Hall that will help to push the policy forward. “Through the town hall, we’re beginning to get a taste of what implementation of the goals laid out in this policy will look like,” she said.

“One of our discussions leaders, a Wisconsin vegetable farmer, reached out to us, asking to how to source to Bon Appetit. With one main goal to increase purchasing in Cafe Mac to 30 percent real food, we’ll be continuing to make connections and have conversations like this one,” Weldon said.

Alexander also emphasized the importance of community partnerships, “I think the Real Food Town Hall was a true testament to the importance of fostering campus-community dialogue,” she said.

“These are the types of connections that can only really happen when you bring community members and the campus community together,” Alexander continued. “These conversations generated a lot of energy surrounding sustainable food on campus and I hope that we can continue to capitalize on this energy as we start implementing our food policy.”

If you would like to learn more about the specifics of Macalester’s food policy and how it is being implemented, contact Laura Humes ([email protected]), Karen Weldon ([email protected]) or Lily Alexander ([email protected]).