Ohio State has said no to the Real Food Campus Commitment, according to a letter sent from the university to Real Food OSU leadership on March 22. The letter was written by Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron and Vice President for Student Life Javaune Adams-Gaston.
The commitment called for 20 percent of the university’s food purchases to be “real food,” meaning food that is local or community-based, fair, ecologically sound or humane, according to the Real Food Challenge’s website.
“Over the past several months, the university has reviewed the elements of the Real Food Campus Commitment,” the letter stated. “While we support the initiative in spirit, we will continue to independently design goals and strategies that can be customized to the needs, challenges and opportunities of our institution and our local community.”
Rachel Metzler, president of Real Food OSU, said the group has been asking for the commitment for two years.
“Since the beginning of our campaign and interactions with administration, we have always been asking for the commitment,” she said. “They have just been vague about a clear yes or no before and have always reiterated that we have ‘shared goals,’ similar to as it states in the letter.”
The OSU petition also called for maintained transparency by the university and the opening of space for “student voice in the campus food system.”
The university’s decision comes on the heels of the Undergraduate Student Government’s Resolution 48-R-41, which made official the student body’s support of the Real Food Commitment. While the letter from OSU made it clear that the university will continue to look to increase local and sustainable food purchases, Metzler, a fourth-year in environment, economy development and sustainability, said she sees this as a silencing of student opinion.
“Actually engaging with students on this is not in their plans,” Metzler said. “This is the process that students want, and they are saying no to that, which is ludicrous. We see this letter as a true ‘no’ to student engagement.”
The university letter cites the sustainability goals laid out by OSU’s President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability, highlighting a goal to “increase production and purchase of locally and sustainably sourced food to 40 percent by 2025.” Metzler said that Real Food OSU would have no issue with signing the commitment at 40 percent.
The letter stated that the university’s goal is double that of the minimum percentage for the Real Food Campus Commitment and applies to all food purchased by OSU, going beyond dining halls. However, Metzler expressed concern because Real Food OSU was not able to understand where the university got its numbers, citing denials of several requests to see OSU’s dining records.
“We do feel that the sustainability goal, especially in light of the letter we received, is hollow,” Metzler said. “The outline of the goals includes statements on how community and student engagement should be a primary mechanism for achieving the goals, however, clearly if they are not willing to commit to Real Food, as has been demonstrated to be the community and undergraduates’ want for the goal, they are not actually working with the OSU community.”
According to the Real Food Challenge website, three schools have already signed off on a 40 percent goal. These schools are Oberlin College, Warren Wilson College and University of California, Santa Cruz.
The letter from the university also stated that it plans on keeping the student body informed and engaged as it moves forward in the process to become more sustainable.
“As we seek to achieve this aspiration, we will continue to engage students in a variety of ways, including on work groups and research teams. Likewise, as is always a critically important component of efforts at the university, we will create an assessment plan to track and monitor progress toward our goals,” the letter stated.
Despite this assurance from the university, Metzler made it clear that Real Food OSU will continue to fight for its voice to be heard.
“We will be continuing to demonstrate that this is something the Buckeye community wants,” Metzler said. “If the university is going to deny students a voice, then we are going to have to make one for ourselves. We pay the tuition to go here, and we want the university to be the best it can be.”