Real Food Challenge

At the 1st IU Food Summit in November 2013, a diverse group of stakeholders decided to use the Real Food Challenge (RFC) framework for this sustainability assessment of all food products on the Bloomington campus. Students in Geography's GEOG-G306 continue this assessment every semester, and the results inform the purchasing decisions of IUB's three food providers: Residential Programs and Services (RPS), Sodexo in the Indiana Memorial Union, and IU Athletics Dining. The results are compatible with the Sustainability Tracking And Reporting Systems (STARS) of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

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The RFC defines “real” food as that which satisfies the criteria in at least one of the following categories:

Local and Community-Based: These foods can be traced to farms and businesses that are locally owned and operated (within 150/250 miles of the purchasing institution) and gross less than 1% of the industry leader. Sourcing these foods supports the local economy by keeping money in the community and builds community relations. The food travels fewer miles to reach consumers. The food is seasonal, and when it is fresh, it often has a higher nutritional content.

Fair: Individuals involved in food production, distribution, preparation--and other parts of the food system—work in safe and fair conditions; receive a living wage; are ensured the right to organize and the right to a grievance process; and have equal opportunity for employment. Fair food builds community capacity and ensures and promotes socially just practices in the food system.

Ecologically Sound: Farms, businesses, and other operations involved with food production practice environmental stewardship that conserves biodiversity and preserves natural resources, including energy, wildlife, water, air, and soil. Production practices should not use toxic substances and should minimize both direct and indirect petroleum inputs.

Humane: Animals can express natural behavior in a low-stress environment and are raised without hormones, antibiotics or other unnecessary medication.  Slaughter and meat-preparation is carried out in facilities that carefully and routinely test for bacterial pathogens, take appropriate remediation action if needed, and that make their testing results public.

The complete Real Food Challenge Criteria can be accessed here.

Real Food Challenge History

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The Real Food Challenge (RFC) is a non-profit organization that began in 2007 and supports a national network of student food activists. The RFC campaign consists of two major initiatives: the Real Food Campus Commitment and the Real Food Calculator. The Real Food Campus Commitment has been signed by 25 colleges across the country as well as the 24-campus California State University (CSU) system. The commitment includes a procurement goal of 20% “real” food by 2020, as well as additional operational and educational initiatives such as the development of a food systems working group.

Real Food Challenge at IUB

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Two IUB students, Rae Waddel and Kelsey Gumm, started the RFC Calculator process independently during the spring semester of 2013. That summer, four student interns of the Office of Sustainability attained the official support of the Food Working Group and the Dining Directors at IUB and continued the Real Food Calculator initiative. The three dining operations (RPS, Sodexo, Athletics) completed a baseline survey and helped the students acquire invoices for the assessment. The students also started reaching out to vendors for purchasing reports and other information. Two of the interns continued work on the RFC assessment into the fall semester of 2013, before the project became an official IU course.    

Students working on the Real Food Challenge

Spring 2013: Rae Waddel, Kelsey Gumm

Summer 2013: Stone Irr, Mary Roper, Amanda Redfern, Angela Babb

Spring 2014: Paige Boyer, Chris Sadjak, Grace Riordan (Instructor: Daniel C. Knudsen)

Spring 2015: Bennie Carmona, Francisca Figueroa, Elise Gahan, Jason Geer, Zachary Guernsey, Alexander Haralovich, Jiyong Hwang, Hye Won Jeong, Jihyang Kim, Ye Won Lee, Grace Lidinsky-Smith, Abby McIntosh, Jessie Menefee, William Reel, Andrew Russo, Laura Seifers, Andrew Sprowl (Instructor: Angela Babb)

Spring 2016: Juan del Valle Coello, Yichen Dong, Thaddeus Grantz, Hongyu Ji, Cory Lamping, Addison Lively, Wei Lu, Zeyu Niu, Caleb Rasmussen, Andrea Salazar, Quinn Schneider, Chong Wang, Siyu Wu, Lihan You, Qi Zhou, Linlin Zhu (Instructor: Angela Babb)

The GEOG-G306: Real Food Challenge class will be offered Spring 2017 by Angela Babb (


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Spring 2016

The students calculated 3.83% of food purchases to be real (sustainable). This percentage of real food is calculated as money spent on real food out of total food expenditures. The 3.83% breaks down as follows:

CategoryRPSRPS %SodexoSodexo %AthleticsAthl %TotalsOverall %
Local & Community Based$417,7082.93%$119,5024.19%$13,0350.84%$550,2462.94%
Ecologically Sound$143,7881.01%$9,2420.32%$00.00%$153,0300.82%
Not Real96.00%95.41%99.16%$17,972,58496.17%

The full report can be found here.