Real Food Discusses Complexity

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Green Mountain College Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Philip Ackerman-Leist gives the keynote address for Real Food Week. (Julia John)

On the evening of Thursday, April 11, Green Mountain College Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Philip Ackerman-Leist gave the keynote address for Real Food Week, an initiative by the new student organization EatReal. Titled “Rebuilding the Foodshed: Higher Education’s Role in Creating Sustainable, Just, and Humane Food Systems,” the lecture dealt with the role of educational institutions in reforming the food industry and promoting local, socially responsible eating.

The event was co-sponsored by the Student Government Association (SGA), Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) Speakers Committee and Ross Commons. Catering was provided by Crossroads Café and the Middlebury College Organic Farm.

“You can really impact the foodshed at an institution like Middlebury,” said Ackerman-Leist. “We need to move away from voting with the dollar and being consumers, toward being good citizens and stewards who can affect policy.”

The Ackerman-Leist emphasized the central role of food in the community and the importance of food production through the support of small, diversified agriculture. He noted that modifying the purchasing and preparation of foods could lead to potential benefits for both the farmer and the institution.

Stu Fram ’13, president of EatReal, stated that the purpose of the lecture was to give the college community an idea of the complexities of the food system.

“We were hoping that [Ackerman-Leist] would unpack the food system in all of its complexity to give attending students, faculty, staff and community members a better sense of the subject matter’s interdisciplinary and multifaceted nature. It’s important, as [Ackerman-Leist] mentioned, not just to consider geographic proximity between farm and plate when thinking about the food system, but to weigh various intricacies related to labor, waste and energy, among countless other considerations.”

Director of Middlebury College Dining Services Matthew Biette found Ackerman-Leist’s speech very informative.

“I thought Philip did a wonderful job detailing the intricacies and complexities of the entire sustainability and local movements. He mentioned many of the various ways you can come at this issue and what the hurdles are,” he said.

EatReal aims to bring locally and responsibly sourced food consistent with the College’s environmental and social values to the dining hall by increasing the annual food budget. Currently, 1.3 percent of the College’s total budget goes toward Dining Services.

Real Food Week was held from Friday, April 5 to Wednesday, April 17, kicking off the week with a local cookout. Included in the Real Food Week programming was basil planting, a locally sourced dinner in Atwater Dining Hall, trivia night and a screening of the film Ingredients.

“Because food is something that directly affects the entire student body, we think it’s really important that our programming is accessible to everyone,” Fram said. “Something Philip touched on was how, given the industrialized agricultural model, we no longer pay the true cost for food. I think that if Middlebury and other institutions of higher education, which not only have a lot of purchasing power but also intellectual credibility and a captive audience, were to take the lead in the realm of more responsible food purchasing, it could prompt a national shift in the way we think about what we eat as a society.”

Biette remarked that Real Food Week prompted a conversation about the greater factors and implications of the opinions and choices that take food from the farm to the dining hall.

“Real Food Week is helping to bring awareness about choices and what issues affect decision making in the many parts of life on a college campus and how differing opinions may have an effect on the outcome,” Biette said.