Campus / Food Politics / News / April 20, 2011

Food Coalition off to ambitious start

Whether one eats three meals a day or snacks on the go, food is a major part of daily life. Accordingly, senior Michelle Gerber said of the Knox Food Coalition, “it’s important to know how the food that we eat is grown.”

The Knox Food Coalition officially emerged in the winter of 2011. Knox College senior Helen Schnoes explained, “I got an e-mail from a group called The Real Food Challenge, a national organization for waging food reform.”

Based on its mission statement, The Real Food Challenge seeks to “increase the procurement of real food on college and university campuses, with the national goal of 20 percent real food by 2020.” Members of the group are actively engaged in learning about “producers, consumers, how to nourish the land and who is involved in making food at all angles,” Schnoes said.

Knox’s first exposure to The Real Food Challenge speakers motivated groups such as Community Garden, KARES and Food for Thought to participate in introductory workshops pertaining to food justice. According to Schnoes, “On Jan. 18-20, 2011, The Real Food Challenge introduced strategic campaign planning workshops to campus that discussed goals, people to work with and challenges to confront” that are associated with tackling the challenge of bringing more local and organic food to campus.

The Knox Food Coalition truly began to establish solidarity after the Food Fair that was held on campus.

“Most of the representatives of the major food companies had no idea where the food they were selling came from,” Gerber said. More importantly, she added, “No local food was represented at the Food Fair.”

Experiences with The Real Food Challenge and the Food Fair “brought disparate interests of various clubs together so that they were working toward a single, compatible mission,” Schnoes said. Following a sustainable foods forum, the Knox Food Coalition decided to take action to improve the quality of food consumed on campus. Understanding what constitutes good food has been a major factor in finding the optimal path that leads to this goal.

According to Environmental Studies Department Chair Professor Peter Schwartzman, “Local food is food that is grown within 50 miles or that is processed locally. We expend a lot of energy and produce lots of pollution when we eat food that is not locally grown.”

Knox College Custodian diana Mackin said, “Speakers from the Real Food Challenge explained that we can’t undercut any part of the 12-facet system” that composes the “real food wheel. Where we get the food that we eat impacts a multitude of factors.”

The food that the Knox student body consumes affects more people than one might think. In Schwartzman’s view, “People in this society make poor choices because of the power of propaganda and how food is advertised.”

For some people, foods that are economically feasible to obtain compose what they consume. Gaining access to better food is an important step in pursuing the greater mission of the Knox Food Coalition.

While the Knox Food Coalition is a major step toward bringing more local and organic food to campus, students have been interested in pursuing the group’s goals before the coalition came into existence. In fact, Samir Bakhshi, ’10, “designed a model in which 10 to 20 percent of non-meat items on campus could be grown on an orchard and small farm,” according to Schwartzman.

He said, “We have two acres of land on Academy Street that could be farmed. We also need a place to process food. Using the space in the backyard of the Human Rights Center is an idea that has been resonating with Knox students for about five years. Three students have done research on it, and Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser has been involved in that process.”

The Knox Food Coalition is even working on a project in which it will develop a class devoted to cultivating a farm or orchard on campus.

“I’m growing my own food, but I would teach the class how to grow food,” Schwartzman said. We would propose Knox students do farm work in the class during fall and spring terms, and we would hire students to work on the farm over the summer.”

Although long-term goals are being set by the Knox Food Coalition, it is important for Knox students not participating in the coalition to take part in the mission of the club to promote the well-being of the entire Knox community.

Although she enjoyed being a part of the Coalition, a concern vocalized by Mackin is that “students are transient. They are here for four years and at the end of that time period people end up going to jobs beyond Knox and its local food project.”

Gerber expanded upon Mackin’s worry. “It’s easy for people not to actively engage in something they are not passionate about. I don’t want to just sit passively in a system, so I don’t really see a choice except to act,” she said.

In order to address the larger worries of the Knox Food Coalition, Gerber said, “The coalition is breaking into small committees for specific research,” so that it can find a way to reach out to the Knox community. Schnoes mentioned that a speaker series is also being introduced to campus so that students can learn about food issues from a number of different perspectives.

Even though food is something often taken for granted, the Knox Food Coalition is taking steps to change the way the campus makes decisions about food today.

Elise Hyser

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