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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis, real food now

Published: February 8, 2013
Section: Opinions

The idea of real food at Brandeis has been popping up around campus more frequently alongside new everyday language such as “local,” “organic,” “humane” and “vegetarian.” The idea of controlling the food you consume is not foreign. In fact, its prevalence is regularly increasing in society within fields such as agriculture, technology, fad-diets and overall health—just to name a few. There are criticisms of such terms and overall misconceptions about what they all mean. There is also the constant question of whether or not any of the claims on the labels make the food truly more beneficial than those purchased without them. Those of us here at Brandeis who are initiating an on-campus movement for “real food” are attempting to combine all of these labels and definitions into one unifying theme. We aim to work together in solidarity for real food now because it is nutritious, natural, better-tasting and a right for every citizen.

The idea of establishing a food system that is “real” needs to be evaluated within certain parameters and ideals. Firstly, let’s define real food. It is food that is successful in at least two of these four pillars: 1) local; 2) ecologically-sound; 3) humane; and 4) fair-trade. Each of these values works toward overall equality of access and quality of food, ensures fair pay for providers, minimizes energy consumed in transportation and eliminates the possibility that chemicals and pesticides are introduced into the nutritious elements with which we are attempting to feed our bodies. Whether or not you approach food consumption from a biological, anthropological, sociological, or historical perspective, the role of real food in everyday life is identical for each and every one of us. Eating real food keeps you healthier, nourishes you, helps your body fight disease and helps promote community and equality—all of which are important in leading a successful, happy life.

For those of us who are not on a meal plan, such as staff, faculty, some undergraduates and graduate students, we can choose where we purchase food, which can be purchased from the local farmer’s market, Russo’s or Hannaford. We are able to make a conscious choice, which is a privilege that we need to acknowledge. Students who are on meal plans, financial aid and, who are in general, reliant upon the campus food, do not have the same privilege and are seeking food that is equivalent to what others are able to choose. Equity becomes largely threatened in this aspect of food justice and equality. Students jeopardize their productivity and happiness by eating foods that are significantly less nutritious because much of the nutrients are lost in transport and industrial production practices. Brandeis is known for being an isolated community within Waltham in many ways, some of which could be eliminated by establishing a greater community through real food. We further this isolation by supporting industrial farms that typically harbor much worse treatment of their workers than those of farmers in the greater Boston area.

In order for Brandeis to be a pioneer in this movement, we need to challenge ourselves and ask the broader questions: “What is my part in the world? What can I do on a large scale that will effectively promote social justice and catalyze larger change?” There are numerous actions and values that fit into this category, some of which include food justice and working with the administration and food provider (Aramark) to start making changes. The Brandeis Real Food Now movement is attempting to work toward change by approaching the situation in as simple and widespread a manner as possible. We are sending out a petition to see which population at Brandeis cares the most about changing our food system and whether or not this population effectively portrays the true desire for real food on campus. Our current task is to get 20 percent of our current food source from local areas by the year 2015. Schools within a 100 mile radius of Brandeis are working to do the same—some of them are already boasting the 20 percent number.

As the movement picks up, it is important for us to ensure that what we are seeking is representative of what would be good for Brandeis as a whole. We believe that in changing the food system here, we will start a ripple effect and be able to help the surrounding community of Waltham, Boston and neighboring schools and families. By changing the source from where our produce comes and by beginning to support local farmers and agriculturists, we can more effectively support the local economy. By working with the Waltham Farmers Market, students who are not on a meal plan will have more access to purchasing food that is grown just a few miles up the road. By purchasing food that is made with fair-trade and humane practices, we are doing our part in social justice to help those who are working hard to have sustainable and appropriate compensation for their hard work. By joining together as a community and an institution, we can make a much larger difference together than we could individually.