ASHLAND, Ore. -- Everybody enjoys the occasional unhealthy snack, but the Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center (ECOS) at Southern Oregon University wants to change that trend through the Real Food Challenge.
"Alumni have said if they had more of those options on campus, they would be really interested in them, but they didn't have those opportunities," Olivia Brown, a junior at SOU and student leader of the Real Food Challenge, said.
The Real Food Challenge looks at four criteria that "real food" has: locally sourced, sustainably produced (organic), fairly traded (fair wages for workers) and humanely produced (usually applies to meat and dairy products). Through surveys and initial research, students involved in the project estimate SOU currently spends approximately 5% of its food budget on food falling under all four criteria. By 2023, students and staff want to make that 20%.
"Our jobs are kind of two-fold, so we have student engagement and also connecting with Dining and choosing which foods we want to push for as real food," Jackie Blanchette, a sophomore at SOU and another student leader of the Real Food Challenge, said.
In its first year, staff and students want to push food that's easier to change over to meet those criteria and, at the same time, not spend a ton of money on the changes. One example given was tofu.
"We want no impact to students' affordability as much as possible and then finding areas to get creative with that," Jill Smedstad, the staff administrator on the initiative, said.
Smedstad presented smaller plates as a way to reduce funding issues because smaller plates typically mean smaller portion sizes which means less food goes to waste meaning less money going in the garbage.
Smedstad and students want to keep costs as balanced as possible and make sure accessibility to food stays the same for all students as well.
SOU is the first university in Oregon to take on the Real Food Challenge and will be officially rolling out the initiative on November 19th at an event open to the SOU community. For more information on that event, check out ECOS' Facebook page.