By Elijah Mackenzie–
When restaurants and coffee shops advertise their products as being locally-made, the question often arises: how local should it be before it’s considered “local”?
According to Carmen Black, a regional field organizer for Real Food Challenge, “local” is a term that’s best left for the people to define.
“Some of the students and dining services I’ve worked with have said that ‘local’ means coming from someplace 100 miles away or less,” said Black. “Each community is different, so there are going to be different definitions according to the needs of each college campus.”
A graduate of Earlham College in Richmond, Virginia, Black currently lives in Eastern Kentucky and works with Real Food Challenge to assist university leaders to bring locally-sourced produce to their campuses.
One of the campaigns of Real Food Challenge is to “increase the procurement of real food on college and university campuses, with the national goal of 20 percent real food by 2020.”
Though the University of Louisville has not yet reached the proposed 20% challenge, real food has indeed been infused into the dining halls on campus due to the collaborative efforts of Sodexo and Metro Louisville’s Farm to Table program.
Sarah Fritschner, coordinator of Louisville Farm to Table, became involved in the crusade for bringing local food to U of L when she was introduced to Mitchell Payne, Associate Vice President for Business Affairs, in the fall of 2011.
“We worked well together, but inconsistently, as my office is downtown,” said Fritschner. “I approached [Payne] with the offer of coming to his office once a week for a half day so our work on local foods could become more systemmatic. He agreed, and I would come every Wednesday to evaluate what had gone on the past week, meet with Sodexo, plan our workshops and other events.”
In a 2008 report provided by Real Food Challenge, studies have found that most college students say they are willing to pay more for local, humane and sustainably produced food.
Given the option of purchasing a $3.50 salad, approximately 58 percent of students said they would be willing to pay $0.25 more – a 7 percent increase – if they knew their food was organic, local and sustainably raised. 69 percent said they would pay the premium for local produce.*
According to Fritschner, Sodexo answered the call of local food activists by purchasing more than $8,000 worth of Kentucky-grown food during 2012 summer and spring orientations.
In addition, Sodexo currently provides catered meals made with local produce, which can be paid for with meal cards. Additionally, sandwiches with an “L” label can be found at any “Simply to Go” kiosk and contain mostly local ingredients.
Perhaps the most effective way for students to receive local food, Fritschner said, is for students to simply make their voices heard and demand it.
Fritschner said that the next steps for bringing local food to campus are still being planned and that more organizations are joining the movement.
U of L Health Promotion Office, Student Activities Board and Sodexo Dining Services have teamed up for an upcoming event called Local Chef Show-Down, where four well-known chefs from the Louisville area will competitively create unique dishes using the same ingredients.
The event is part of Health Promotion’s annual Body Awareness and Body Appreciation series. Audiences will get to select the winning chefs, whose recipes will be featured in the Ville Grill in the weeks following the event.
“It’s just another way for students to experience local food and see that it’s something that can really be done,” said Karen Newton, director of the Health Promotion Office. “For many people, eating locally is more than just a philosophy. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also pretty delicious.”
Photo: Val Servino/The Louisville Cardinal