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CSU Working Group to Make Affordable, Healthful Food a Reality for Students

The first-ever California State Universities' Food Systems Working Group (CSU FSWG) kicked off last month, and all hands are on deck when it comes to serving CSU students more healthful food.

The inaugural meeting on March 14 was attended by a committee of students, professors, technical experts, dining management staff, food producers, and administrators from all 23 campuses and respective communities. Their goal is to get more "real food" on CSU campuses.

Real food, defined as local- and community-based, fair trade, ecologically sound, and humane, is increasingly being sought after by students.

"Students are becoming more and more sustainability-minded," says Corinne Knapp, associate director of dining services at CSU Chico State. "They want to know where their food comes from and they want to feel connected to the farmers that harvest their food. Clean ingredients with clear labels and things like fair trade coffee are important to them. We're responding to their demand."

The demand was amplified through a 2017 vote by the CSSA (California State Student Association), the collective voice of the CSU's 484,000 students, to participate in the Real Food Challenge—a national effort for universities to shift 20% of their food budget toward real food by 2020. The CSU FSWG aligned their goals with the values of the challenge, striving to not only provide more healthful food options on campus but also to invest more in California's local farmers.

"There's usually an added cost when it comes to purchasing from smaller, local farmers," says Clement Tsang, assistant coordinator for the Real Food Challenge. "In turn, only 2% of California's total food budget is spent on smaller to midsize farms across the state. This initiative aims to enrich our local communities while reducing costs for students who want to eat healthy."

Currently, eight CSUs have a real food system in place. Through partnerships with local farmers and a joint purchasing agreement with the University of California (UC), CSU campuses are implementing ways to make affordable real food a reality for students.

Chico State's dining services, for example, was looking at $23,000 in added costs per year in order to make a switch to serving cage-free eggs. Through the joint purchasing agreement with the UC, Chico State was able to make a deal that minimized the cost to only $3,000 more per year.

For transparency, all campuses participating in the Real Food Challenge are audited on their progress through the Real Food Calculator. The calculator tracks how much each campus spends on real food versus conventional food and is intended to serve as a tool for discussion between students and CSU administrators.

— Source: California State University Chancellor's Office
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