Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Local & Organic Food on NC Campuses - Advances in Food Democracy

There's an exciting (and delicious) trend afoot: college campuses in North Carolina are turning to locally-produced, organic foods for their dining services and on-campus restaurants! To get up to speed on what Triangle campuses are doing, check out this great article in last week's IndyWeek about the "FLO Food" movement at UNC, and similar efforts at Duke and NCSU.

Across the state, students and staff at colleges and universities are working on getting their own dining halls to go local and organic, and it's not just the crunchy colleges you might think of first, either! This is really exciting to me for a lot of reasons, but to sum up the highlights -

If a college campus can do it, just about anyone can. At the top of the list of reasons why people don't eat local and organic food, you'll probably find things like "it costs too much," or "it's hard to find," or, for large-scale kitchens, "there's not a large and consistent enough supply for what my restaurant/school/etc needs." But, goshdarnit, if a university dining service that makes thousands of meals a day can do it, than so can just about anyone! I think our NC university dining services are dispelling some important myths about buying local and organic food:
> It doesn't necessarily cost more, and when it does, it's often worth it. I like the example of the hamburger made of local grass-fed beef that costs $1 more, but students buy more of them anyway because they taste better and it's the right thing to do. If you're truly strapped for cash, that $1 really might not be worth it, but I think a lot more people could, and would, make that choice if they had the option.
> You don't have to buy everything local and organic for it to count - start somewhere! According to this article, dining services at Duke are serving between 16% and 35% local foods, depending on the place. That's fantastic, so long as they're not misleading anyone to think that it's more than what it is. As consumers, we have to be like the Duke dining hall - we have to buy as much local and organic stuff as we feasibly can, and trust that with time, it'll get easier. Any business we can consistently send to local and organic farms helps our local economy, environment, and our own health. With a little time, the supply side of the equation will catch up to us, and we'll be able to find more affordable local and organic foods.....but we've got to start buying what we can now!
> It's not just fancy stuff, and it's not just veggies. Nope, "organic food" does not just mean shitake mushrooms, sprouts and broccoli rabe (say what?), and it doesn't just mean something you eat at a fancy restaurant for special occasions. It also comes in normal everyday varieties....your green beans and your mashed potatoes, your carrot sticks and apple juice. And, it's not just your fruits and veggies that come locally produced and organic - it's also meats (pork, beef and poultry), eggs, milk and cheese, honey and more. Heck, it's even your Christmas tree! All these products are available organic and North Carolina-grown, so please don't forget to look for them!
Most of all, this article makes me happy because it's about democratizing good food. By that, I mean that everyone deserves the choice to eat healthy, locally-grown organic food, not just people who live near natural foods stores, and not just wealthy people. When large institutions that serve a broad cross-section of the community commit to providing these options, that's a huge step in improving our food democracy! Where else do we need to see more local and organic food options?
K-12 schools!
Childcare centers!
Office & hospital cafeterias!
Your regular grocery store!
Where would you like to see more local or organic foods? Need help making a plan to get them? Please don't hesitate to contact us!

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