Jaggar DeMarco: Real action must follow goals to offer “real food”

Did you know that about 90 percent of the food GW provides – the food you might have eaten in dining halls as a freshman – isn’t “real?”

University President Steven Knapp announced earlier this month that GW will commit to the “Real Food Challenge,” which means 20 percent of the food at GW’s dining venues will come from local and sustainable sources by 2020. Right now, we hover at about 9.6 percent.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jaggar DeMarco

We’re the first school in D.C. – and one of the largest private universities – to sign on to the commitment. This is part of a campus-wide push for sustainability, one of Knapp’s major goals since he took the helm in 2007, and it’s laudable.

But we need a bit of a reality check.

Increasing the amount of “real food” we consume by 10 percent over six years doesn’t seem like that significant a commitment. If it’s met, four-fifths of our food will still not come from sustainable sources.

At a time when new Colonials are committing to GW by sending in their first deposits, Knapp’s move seems more like a publicity stunt.

Setting aside concerns that only about 9 percent of our food is considered “real,” the good news is that GW’s contract with food provider Sodexo expires in 2016. Students and administrators will spend next academic year looking into possible new dining options.

This is as good a time as any to overhaul GW’s dining services. The Real Food Challenge shows that the administration’s goals are in the right place. Improving food here should be a priority, but making actual progress on the commitment should happen now.

In recent years, J Street’s popularity has hit record lows. That’s ironic given that GW spends more on student services than the majority of its competitor schools. Dining is an important student service – but you couldn’t tell from the running jokes about J Street.

Many students already turn to Whole Foods for their “real food,” which means they’re spending a premium to get quality products. This food is also notoriously expensive, and Whole Foods shouldn’t be the sole on-campus option when GW has the budget – not to mention the space for an adequate dining hall – that it does.

GW should bring business back to University-owned dining options. It would be a revenue draw for the University if people were actually excited to eat at J Street, and the Whole Foods example shows that students will pay big bucks for good food.

J Street’s unpopularity is disappointing for another reason: The ability to dine together is important at any college. At a city campus like ours, there’s no true centralized hub, and many students spend a bulk of their time at off-campus internships or volunteer programs.

A dining hall is the best possible place to foster a much-needed sense of campus intimacy at a University where school spirit is contingent on how well the basketball team does in any given year.

Now, I’m not trying to be unrealistic. Offering 100 percent real food at campus dining venues would not only be impossible, but also unnecessary. I enjoy my junk food just like everyone else. But we all need to eat well, and we should be able to access that food on campus at a reasonable price.

When the University sets its goals, it should strive to achieve an actual accomplishment, not just set the bar low enough to make success imminent. GW needs to make a genuine commitment to sustainable food.

Jaggar DeMarco, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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