By Sophie Lamond, co-leader of the Youth Food Movement, Melbourne
Fair food matters. This audience, if anyone, knows the importance of the mission to educate people about what fair food means and why it is crucial for our future. One of our biggest challenges is to communicate this message beyond our immediate community. It is vital that we spread the word far and wide and turn these conversations into action.
This is the basis of the newly launched Fair Food Challenge. Supported by AFSA, the Challenge is asking Australian higher education institutions to implement sustainable food policies that support and encourage local, sustainable, ethical and fair procurement. We are calling for a commitment to 20 per cent fair and sustainable food procurement by 2020.
The Fair Food Challenge is inspired by the Real Food Challenge (RFC), a grassroots movement that begun in 2007 in the United States. The RFC bought together student activists, national food movement leaders and higher education sustainability experts to agitate for real food on university campuses. In the intervening eight years the American organization has become a national movement that has persuaded dozens of tertiary institutions to adopt food policies. Major victories have included the integration of the Real Food Challenge into the sustainability policies of multi-campus systems such as state university system of California. In total the challenge has succeeded in redirecting over $60 million of institutional money to purchasing local, fair, sustainable and ethical food.
It is a daunting aspiration, but an important one. If we can successfully bring this challenge to Australian universities we can do so much to further the cause of fair food in this country. Not only can we provide substantial direct economic support for fair food producers, but we can open up a massive platform for advocacy and education. University students are away from home and on their own for the first time, and the behaviours they adopt at this time will influence the rest of their lives. To encourage young people to ask critical questions about where their food comes from and to demand more from their food system sets up a new generation of consumers willing to venture outside the strictures of duopoly shopping and fast food.
Students have a right to food. Research that we’ve undertaken shows that Australian university students are overwhelmed with the task of trying to feed themselves good food while surviving on low wages and sensitive time pressures. Recent reports have outlined that students are lining up for meals from charity because they can’t afford anything else. University food outlets are expensive and often lacking in healthy options. Part of the challenge will be to encourage the provision of healthy, fresh and affordable food on campuses.
We face a unique set of hurdles in the Australian iteration of this challenge; although we may think of America has the epitome of the free-market it still has a much more centralised model of food procurement than anything we know in Australia. Our childhoods were free of school lunch programs and our university experience is not defined by dining halls. Food on our campuses is a dispersed affair – which means we will need some creative and engaged thinking to bring about change in our system. But difficult is not impossible, we will work with student unions, clubs and societies, university administration and students to create knowledge networks that can contribute to the formulation of sustainable food policies.
We won’t be able to do this alone, this is a challenge that will benefit from collaboration and engagement from a wide variety of stakeholders. Join Us. Sign up for updates at fairfoodchallenge.com. Spread the word, if you or anyone you know are interested in fair food and are involved with any Australian tertiary institution we’d love to hear from you.