By Nick Stephens
“A wheel without all of its spokes can never make a full revolution,” said Katie Blanchard, referring to the holistic way in which she and her colleague, Katelyn Hale, present their idealized diagram of the food system. “What is a food system?” Hale asked the question of the approximately 30 Beloit College students in attendance at their workshop in the Science Center’s main lecture hall this past Saturday afternoon. Brian Shobe ’12 offered a concise answer: “It’s the production, processing, distribution and consumption of our food.”
The two recent college graduates and representatives of the Real Food Challenge (RFC) unveiled a large canvas on which was painted a circular diagram outlining the necessary components of their ideal food system. “What is Real Food?” the headline of the diagram asked. “Food that truly nourishes…” was at the hub of the circle, around which appeared the four elements of the system: producers of food, consumers of food, communities, and the earth.
Beloit was stop seven on Blanchard and Hale’s Real Food Road Trip, an extension of the nation-wide real food campaign aimed at bringing about social change and spreading awareness of what real food is. “It is food which truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth…it is a food system–from seed to plate–that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability,” reads the movement’s Web site.
The workshop was a fully interactive educational experience consisting of a discussion-based lecture and small and large group brainstorming projects. The two RFC representatives separated everyone into groups of 3-4 and passed out different vignettes of movements in history during which a faction sought to bring about social change: student sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement, land-rights for farmers in Brazil, etc. The groups’ tasks were to read through these descriptions, discuss them, and then report back to the entire room, answering the specific questions of, “What were the protagonists up against?” Common answers here included imperialistic ideals, large corporations, and government repression. And question 2, “To get what they (the protagonists) wanted/needed, they…” Common answers here included forming coalitions, protests, and community meals.
Following this exercise, Blanchard and Hale continued on with the lecture side of the workshop, showing facts and statistics detailing the large amounts of money that the three main food distribution companies, Compass Group, Sodexo, and Aramark, make each year. Annual earnings of these three companies combined is over $18 billion, and that’s just within the U.S.A. at colleges and universities – their services are also extended to other institutions such as hotels and hospitals. $5 billion dollars of their earnings are allocated to food purchasing, which, as the RFC representatives pointed out, suggests that it’s within their financial capacity to implement the changes the RFC promotes.
The latter half of the workshop focused on developing leadership and organizational strategies in order to better equip students with the tools necessary to manifest the changes supporters of the RFC want to see at Beloit. They passed around the Real Food Campaign Strategy Chart that pragmatically outlines the facets of the movement: goals, which are divided into long-term, intermediate, and short term; organizational considerations, consisting of assets and limitations; constituents, allies and opponents; targets, referring to who is in control of the system attempting to be changed; and tactics, i.e. what is done with the constituency to their target to achieve their goals and build their organization.
Beloit College’s Slow Food Club meets every Tuesday at 10pm in the OEC. Current ambitions of the club include: restoring fair trade coffee and tea into the regular stock of Dk’s, Java Joint and Commons; expanding student gardening/farming projects; the food co-op; as well as the long-term goal of ‘real food’ implementations in every aspect of student culinary life.