If you were ever or are a college student, know a college student, or have a child that’s a college student you know about the infamous “Freshman 15”. It’s a theory that all freshmen gain 15 pounds their first semester of college. Why? They make poor food choices. They stay up late, eat junk food high in carbohydrates, and they don’t exercise because they are studying and trying to settle in to college life. There are students all over the country; however, who are taking a pledge to take charge of those bad eating habits and encourage their college campuses to move toward “real food”.

What is the Real Food Challenge?

According to their vision statement, the Real Food Challenge is “campaigning to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources by 2020”. Students in 216 campuses in 46 states and five countries are asking their campuses to support this movement.

David Schwartz, campaign coordinator of the Real Food Campaign explains how it works:

The initiative has given students across the nation a united voice, which makes the campaign even more powerful. We want universities to listen to students and to demonstrate real leadership when it comes to building a real food economy.

How are students getting involved?

To celebrate the Real Food movement and spread awareness about the growing problem of obesity in this country, colleges participated in Food Day on October 24th. Campuses who participated in Food Day organized events to encourage  their universities to agree to use 20 percent of its food purchasing budget on real foods. St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana was the first to sign the commitment.

Students are submitting their Food Day stories to RealFoodChallenge.org. Their stories are just as unique as their campuses and their commitment to be the catalyst of change:

  • University of Alaska-hosted an “Iron Chef” cook-off between the dean of the agriculture school and the dean of the fisheries school dubbed “Surf and Turf”. They also set up a Taste of Alaska booth featuring grass fed beef, cold smoked salmon, lettuce, tomatoes, rutabagas, onions, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage; all “real food”.
  • Baker University-celebrated with a Real Food Information Fair and a volunteer day at the local farms in the area. Their goal is to build awareness and interest in the local farm industry and build lasting and valuable relationship between Baker University and the local farming community.
  • Lehman College-provided healthy snacking for students on the run to help educate students about healthier choices. Their eventual goal is to replace vending machine junk food with healthy options.
  • University of Arizona-students were treated to a celebrity chef who presented students with a food demo on how to prepare locally grown foods.
  • University of Texas-treated students to a showing of the documentary, “Dive!”, following a dumpster diver as he exposes the amount of edible food trashed by grocery stores.

Are colleges committed to having healthy campuses?

The University of New Hampshire made the news recently when it proposed banning energy drinks from campus starting in January 2012. Although the decision was short-lived based on pressure from students and Red Bull who supported student events on campus, this decision was made to help further President Mark Huddleston’s goal of making the campus the nation’s healthiest by 2020:

“We want UNH to be the healthiest campus community in the country by 2020 and that means every member of the UNH community will play a role,” said Barbara Arrington, dean of the College of Health and Human Services and co-chair of Healthy UNH. “Every single one of us can make positive changes, from improving our eating habits and committing to regular exercise, to choosing generic drugs when appropriate and making educated decisions about our health care.”

It’s hopeful that the Real Food pledge will be echoed by all campuses across the country and that the students who support the Real Food Challenge are able to convince their campuses to do the same. Healthy college students will not also help to reduce the nation’s healthcare costs, but healthy students will translate into students whose brains are fed to promote academic success.

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