Jordan Fields ‘17

think food

This year, Real Food Williams aimed to make some big changes on campus, starting with our name. In September, the group decided to change our name to thinkFOOD. The name change reflects a slight change in direction for us. We decided that our most powerful tool and most pressing goal is to encourage students, faculty and staff at Williams to consider not only what they put on their plate but where it came from, who put it there and at what cost?

Real Food is a national organization whose aim is to convince universities around the nation to sign the “Real Food Challenge,” a commitment to serve 20% “real food” (local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food) on campus by 2020. Our group was formed in response to this call to action.  Unfortunately, the administration was not so eager and declined to commit to the Real Food Challenge. Williams students are not stymied so easily, however, and in the years since the group has worked behind the scenes with Dining Services to target specific food items that can be replaced with “real” ones. This initiative has been successful. In 2013-14, we worked closely with our excellent dining staff to replace all industrial ground beef served in Paresky dining hall with local beef from Black River Produce in North Springfield, VT. In 2014-15, we replaced bananas in Mission dining hall with fair trade bananas.

real cost

This year, we continued this work on a broader scale. Recognizing that global climate goals cannot be met without confronting the first world’s ravenous hunger for meat, we set the ambitious goal of reducing the college’s industrial beef purchases by 50% and replacing these items with complete plant-based protein meals. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not trying to push vegetarianism on anyone, but all things must be consumed in moderation – especially meat. We held a student assembly in January to talk about the plan and almost 150 students attended. We then conducted a straw poll of the student body through College Council and 78% of the 500 responses were in favor. College Council then nearly unanimously approved the referendum. We are working closely with director of dining services, Bob Volpi, Head Chef, Mark Thompson and VP for Campus Life, Steve Klass, to see this change through. The green menu is slated to roll out at the start of next year.

A large part of the name change also means thinking beyond our plates. A shortcoming of the Real Food Challenge is that food issues cannot be solved by simply voting with our forks. This year we worked hard to think critically about our food system and its flaws. The people behind our plates are an element we recognized a pivotal, and often overlooked, piece of the puzzle. People Behind the Plate was the name of an event we hosted on May 5th designed to highlight the underlying labor issues that our plates rest on.  Professor Adam Romero opened the event by outlining the basic trouble: a system that prioritizes products over people. Billy Peard of the Central West Justice Center’s Migrant Farmworker Unit in Springfield, MA spoke next about strategies for overcoming these challenges. Finally, Marita Canedo of Migrant Justice, a group that advocates for the rights of migrant workers in Vermont’s dairy industry, brought these issues a little closer to home.

Each speaker had one main conclusion: more people need to be aware of the fact that food cannot be changed simply through food, it’s more complex than that and takes more thought. That’s just what we hope to do at thinkFOOD, make each member of the Williams community consider these questions and ask their own: at what cost?