Academic journal article Human Organization

Campus Alternative Food Projects and Food Service Realities: Alternative Strategies

Academic journal article Human Organization

Campus Alternative Food Projects and Food Service Realities: Alternative Strategies

Article excerpt


Growing national interest in a more sustainable food system can be seen in the expansion of farmers markets and farm to table restaurants, emergence of the USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program, and farm to school projects around the country (Fitch and Santo 2016). Such initiatives reflect increasing public awareness of current health consequences, environmental externalities, and social justice concerns and seek "a sustainable alternative to the socially, economically, and environmentally destructive practices that have come to be associated with conventional agriculture" (Lyson 2004:1).

Gottlieb and Joshi (2010:5) define the food system as the entire set of activities and relationships that make up the various food pathways from seed to table and that influence "how and why and what we eat." Slocum (2007) defines alternative food projects as those that advocate for any or all of the following: healthier food options, more ecologically sound and socially just farming practices, food marketing, and distribution practices. This definition locates alterity in the actors' attempts to rearrange social and material relations to improve agri-food practices towards social and environmental ends. "Colleges and universities are leading the sustainable food movement and have been for a while," observed Roberta Anderson (personal communication, June 8, 2010) of the Food Alliance; they create "spaces of possibility" (Goodman, DuPuis, and Goodman 2011:4). Local food initiatives seek to rebuild forms of economic relations that are no longer purely profit driven but include as well dimensions of environmental care and social justice characterized by direct market links between producers and consumers, rather than links between wholesalers, brokers, or processors (DeLind 1999; Lyson 2004). From the consumer's perspective, the lack of knowledge created by "food from nowhere" is replaced by "food from somewhere" that includes place-based dimensions of meaning and identity (McMichael 2009; Trubek 2008). The potential impact is large; the food service industry's annual revenue is over $40 billion (IbisWorld 2016).

An on-ramp for campus sustainable food efforts is often a focus on a particular product (local apples), issue (sustainable seafood), or event (100-mile meal), constituting a "do something" approach that begins the conversation towards more substantive purchasing shifts (Nina Mukherji, personal communication, April 18, 2013).

This article focuses on the more systematic campus projects that commit to regular purchases of local food or sustainably-grown products that seek to incubate alternative nodes in a values-based food chain (Stevenson et al. 2007). From a general alternative food intentionality, some campuses have moved to comprehensive policies involving lists of desired criteria and websites naming farmers who supply the cafeteria. Accountability through statistical tracking of food service expenditures for sustainable food has emerged in recent years and has spread with the rise of national assessments such as STARS (AASHE 2017). A more recent stage in higher educational efforts is the incorporation of ethical purchasing qualities into formal food service contracts.

Academic Concerns

As the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of international corporations restructured the global food system, social scientists have explored the emergence of locallybased food initiatives and their efforts to promote community and social and economic development, as well as healthier conditions for workers and food for consumers (Heffernan 1999; Kloppenburg and Hassanein 2006). Food purchases present a transformative opportunity through which social relations can be altered and power enacted (Paxson 2013). Higher education commitments seek to support a movement toward critical consumption that re-embeds market transactions in social relations (Polanyi 1963) and imbues routine market transactions with environmental and social concerns, "reconstituting the relational basis of society" (Conner at al. …

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