Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2023

The Hopkins community gathered on Friday in support of the Real Food Challenge and the signing of the Real Food Campus Commitment by President Ronald J. Daniels. The contract commits the University to a new sustainable food purchasing policy, notably promising to boost “real food” on campus by 35 percent by 2020.

The signing was followed by the fourth annual 100 Mile Meal, in which attendees enjoyed a sit-down meal with the president and members of Real Food Hopkins.

Real Food Hopkins is the student-run chapter of the national organization the Real Food Challenge, a campaign aiming to leverage the power of youths across the country to create a healthier, more sustainable and economically viable food system. The primary goal of the challenge is to shift $1 billion worth of University food budgets towards local and community-based produce that is ecologically grown and abides to the conditions of fair trade.

Over 100 students, faculty, staff and members of the local Baltimore community attended the signing of the Real Food Campus Commitment. An array of “real food” fall dishes were served in the subsequent dinner. These dishes ranged from squash spreads to locally baked breads.

“I was astonished to see how many people came together to celebrate President Daniels’ signing of the Real Food Campus Commitment at the fourth annual 100 Mile Meal. We had over 100 people attend the event. It was truly inspiring to see what a tangible, positive difference just a handful of students can make in our community. Over my next three and a half years at Hopkins, I can’t wait to help implement and uphold our pledge to make 35% of Homewood food ‘real’ by 2020,” freshman Nemo Keller said.

Keller is double majoring in Biomedical Engineering and Global Environmental Change and Sustainability and was involved in promoting the event.

To begin the event, Daniels gave a short speech detailing the initiative and the changes that have been implemented on campus.

“The truth is that with the sustainable food initiative, we have a challenge,” Daniels said.

He described some of the challenges Hopkins faces trying to strike a balance between choice and responsibility to health and went on to introduce a new University initiative that involves partners in East Baltimore. President Daniels explained that Hopkins is working to teach local entrepreneurs the trade of sustainable food production. The University has promised to buy whatever the collaborators produce so long as the products meet the conditions of the partnership.

He then introduced the signing of the Real Food Campus Commitment. Originally, Daniels had aimed to boost the percentage of “real food” on campus to 20 percent by the year 2020; however, he stunned the crowd by going up to the placarded contract and crossing out the “20 percent” mark and writing in “35 percent,” 15 percent more than was initially planned.

“A few of us on the inside had heard he was going to sign at 30 percent, but we couldn’t announce that beforehand,” said Raychel Santo, co-founder of Real Food Hopkins. “When he stated 35 percent, he had all of us shocked, including the dean and other administrators with whom we had been working! By signing at 35 percent, Hopkins has committed to one of the highest percentages across the country. Only three others have signed above us — Oberlin, UC Davis, and Warren Wilson College.”

Santo is a senior majoring in Public Health Studies and Global Environmental Change and Sustainability.

After the meals were served, there was a panel of speakers involved in the health initiative both on and off campus.

The first of the speakers was Mike Brannan, vice president at Old Line Custom Meat Company.

“We try to sell all the bits and pieces [of the meat], that the white-table cloth people don’t want,” he said.

Brannan’s company works in partnership with Hopkins to provide processing for small farms and helps them take sustainable approaches. The Hopkins partnership enables a larger processing footprint on the local level, helping local farms stay afloat amidst competition from larger enterprises.

Dr. Cindy Parker, the director of the Global Environmental Change and Sustainability Department, spoke next about food ethics and how the new initiative had already succeeded in providing a platform for students to get involved and apply their knowledge from the classroom to the real world.

The third speaker was Norman Zwagil, the resident district manager for Bon Appétit. Zwagil touched on the other initiatives that Bon Appétit is involved in such as campaigns against the ill treatment and working conditions of farmers and their current partnership with OXFAM in order to bring about change in the food industry.

The fourth and final speaker was Marie Wilson, a Baltimore native who has worked in food services for more than 40 years. She has worked on campus for both Aramark and Bon Appétit.

“The difference between Aramark and Bon Appetit is that this one is real food. Food that I enjoy eating everyday,” Wilson said.

Santo then spoke about the success of the campaign.

“One reason I think our campaign has been so successful and attracted interest from so many varied disciplines is because it encompasses much more than just health. We are advocating for environmental sustainability, social justice, animal welfare, and more. Moreover, because each and every person consumes food, we all have a voice in the matter and can see the impacts of our changes every day,” Santo said.

Emily Nink, who co-founded Real Food Hopkins with Santo, agreed.

“I think our unique collaborative leadership structure was essential to our group’s success,” Nink wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “RFH members have produced positive change behind the scenes, working as a team to take on big challenges through mutual task delegation and incremental successes.”

Hopkins is now the 18th university to sign the pledge, which commits institutions to a system that facilitates community involvement, respects human rights and ensures ecological sustainability.

“This commitment wouldn’t be possible without the national support from Real Food Challenge,” Nink wrote. “Through its national and regional conferences, regional support staff and working groups, and development of campaign materials, RFC inspired our original campaign and drove us to achieve our objectives on campus.”

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