Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What is "real food"?

food [food] n 1. something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies


real [ree-uhl, reel] adj 1. true and actual; not artificial


Real Food is food which truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth. It is a food system--from seed to plate--that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability. Some people call it "local," "green," "slow," or "fair." We use "Real Food" as a holistic term to bring together many of these diverse ideas people have about a values-based food economy.


This is about more than supermarket labels. The Real Food Challenge has developed an innovative Real Food Calculator, which provides in-depth definitions of Real Food and a tracking system for institutional purchasing. With this tool, Real Food is broken down into four core categories: local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane.


2. Why students?

Because students are engaged. We have shown that we have the passion, drive and wherewithal to make real change. Thousands of students are already working to create a more just and sustainable food system, and have demonstrated a commitment to the highest ideals of environmental sustainability and social justice.

Because students have power. We're the ones eating that cafeteria food every day, and our voice matters. Whether they know it or not, university administrations and food service operations are accountable to student demands.

Because students (and young people in general) have the biggest stake in the future. We are future teachers, engineers, doctors, parents, filmmakers, plumbers, farmers, and urban planners - we will be decision-makers at every level of society. Our priorities are the priorities of the future.

Because the movement needs students. From Women's Suffrage to Civil Rights, few if any social change movements have succeeded without the energy, bravery, and commitment of young people.

Clearly, students are key to change. But students are currently lacking coordination and system-wide organization. Unlike food service directors, college presidents and other campus stakeholders, we don't, for instance, tend to think about campus food as one big market. If our efforts can be better coordinated and focused, we have the potential to become a force far more powerful than our numbers suggest.


3. Why now?

The time is ripe! People are increasingly waking up to the need for change. The situation is dire, as environmental degradation, corporate consolidation, homogenization, and alienation become the hallmarks of our food system. The momentum for change is growing; consumers are demanding more real food, activists from across the country are linking up, and the buzz is growing all around. On hundreds of institutions all around North America, the momentum has become a budding movement.

This movement, however, lacks common goals, a common framework, and a collective voice. Nor is this movement as diverse and widespread as it should be. If we move strategically and effectively, we can capitalize on the growing energy and bring the many elements of the campus food movement into collaboration, working towards a unified goal of more socially and environmentally conscious food.


4. How is the Real Food campaign and network structured?

Overall, the Real Food Challenge is a main project of the Meal Exchange team, who works with students across Canada on a diversity of sustainable food, and food security related programming.

One Real Food Challenge Coordinator will work with campuses across Canada to collaborate on RFC projects.

Students run the Calculator on their campuses. These students are supported by one another as well as by Meal Exchange staff.


5. How did the Real Food Challenge start?

The Real Food Challenge began in the United States when representatives of the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) joined The Food Project's (TFP) youth delegation at the 2006 Food and Society Conference sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The youth delegates saw a connection between their work on college campuses and the Foundation's new goal of shifting the presence of good food in the food system from 2% to 10%. They realized that a similarly-framed goal could help to focus the work of students in shifting the college food system.

A year later at the 2007 Food and Society Conference, TFP, CSSC and student leaders formally created a Steering Committee and a Design Team to make the idea a reality.

In 2014, Meal Exchange invited a Real Food Challenge representative to attend the National Student Food Summit, after which Canadian students decided to bring the program to Canada. The Real Food Challenge pilot, organized at campuses across British Columbia, launched in January 2016.  Now, the Real Food Challenge is piloting at campuses across B.C. and Ontario and will officially launch across Canada in summer 2017!


6. How is the Real Food Challenge funded?

The Real Food Challenge pilot project is funded by the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Vancity EnviroFund, Vancouver Foundation, Greenbelt Fund and Eco Canada.

We appreciate all of the support we have received, financial and otherwise. The growing network of participating campuses also play an important role in hosting the Real Food Challenge, and making this work possible.

If you are interested in contributing, please contact Anita Abraham at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


7. What is a "food system"?

A food system refers to a web of individuals, organizations, companies, and other institutions (including government) that work to produce, process, and distribute food; representing the whole journey from seed to plate and back again. This includes (but is not limited to) seed production, agriculture, labor, distribution, processing, purchasing, consumption and waste.

We might consider our dominant food system today a "global-industrial" food system, in which product chains often stretch around the globe, largely fueled by fossil fuels and exploited labor. A healthy food system, by contrast, has the power to nourish people, communities and the earth through a commitment to just and sustainable practices, not just on the farm, but throughout the many parts of the greater food system.

Just as we talk about the "health care system" beyond simple medicine, the term "food system" simply helps us talk about food beyond just the farm, the supermarket, or the refrigerator.


8. How do food and changing the world fit together?

Everybody eats and therefore everybody is affected by food. Some people starve while others have too much to eat. Some agricultural practices have created dangerous environmental problems while others have helped restore animal habitats, reduced dangerous soil erosion, and increased plant biodiversity. Some workers in agricultural production face oppressive and dangerous workplaces every day, while others are well compensated for their work and are able to work year round in safe places. Some food that is produced these days is so unhealthy for people consuming it that we are seeing a rise in food related diseases like obesity and diabetes. And some food is healthy and a joy to eat and brings people together over the table.

Considering these many effects of our food, we can see that by changing our food system, we can help change the world. Changing the world takes a lot more than simply consuming differently, it requires using food as a means to change both structures and people.


9. Will you bombard me with emails if I join?

No. We recognize that you don't want to be flooded with our email. If you sign up on the Meal Exchange email list, will send out only monthly updates. If you are working more closely with the Real Food Challenge, the Meal Exchange Coordinator will contact you only when necessary. 


10. Why should I take action?

The Real Food Challenge is a way to educate your community and create real social change. Most importantly, by taking action you'll join a growing network of people eager to share ideas and resources with you. With Real Food Challenge trainings, conferences, local events and online resources available to you, you'll be well on your way to effective campus organizing and advocacy.

Working towards the Real Food Challenge's campaign goal - shifting 20% of university food purchasing to Real Food by 2020 - also shows others how important it is that students and their allies stand together to demand a food system that reflects a world we can be proud of.

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