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North Hills Monthly

Pitt Dining Services and Real Food Challenge Promote Healthy Student Eating

Sep 30, 2018 05:56PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

“Make good choices” is the advice that many parents give to their newly minted college freshmen as they drop them off at their college dorms, as many of these students are likely experiencing a taste of independence for the first time.

For parents of University of Pittsburgh students, some of those good choices can now extend to their children’s dining options. Pitt Dining Services, run by Sodexo, is an active participant in the student-led Real Food Challenge, a nationwide initiative that promotes healthy eating on college campuses.

“Our goal is to have a program that supports a healthy body, a healthy planet, minimizes waste, and supports the local economy,” said Nick Goodfellow, Pitt Dining Services’ sustainability coordinator. He added that healthy eating contributes to the academic performance and overall health of students, which is one of the objectives behind the challenge.

Goodfellow said that the primary concern for both parents and college students is safety. “We hear from a lot of parents about how students have food allergies or intolerances, so we have a pretty robust allergen-friendly dining program,” he explained. “Also, as students are living independently for the first time, they’re responsible for trying to have a balanced, nutritious meal while weighing the temptations of burgers and pizza.”

As part of a student initiative, Pitt took on the Real Food Challenge in 2015.“This is a nationwide campaign to encourage universities to use their buying power for food in a responsible and productive and progressive way,” said Tate Yawitz, a Pitt sophomore who is part of a student-led team that audits the invoices from the food that is purchased for the dining facilities to ensure that it meets the requirements of the challenge.

In order to determine what constitutes ‘real’ food, the university utilizes a checklist devised by the Real Food Challenge National Standards Council. For example, a green-light food product must fall into one of these four categories: Local and Community Based; Fair; Ecologically Sound and Humane. “Note that even if they fall into one of the four categories, they are disqualified if the product or producer is found to have any disqualifiers, such as labor violations, GMOs, etc.,” said Goodfellow.

To illustrate the scope of Pitt Dining Services, Goodfellow explained that the university serves 30,000 meals a day at their Oakland campus, which includes both students and faculty. Sodexo provides food at two large dining halls, including the main one dubbed “Market Central,” three cafeterias, and over a dozen coffee carts. They also provide campus catering as well as concessions for all Pitt-run facilities, such as Petersen Events Center and Fitzgerald Field House.

“We introduced a food truck on campus and are also about to open a grocery store on campus, which is something we’re very excited about,” said Goodfellow. “We also have a very successful farmer’s market in front of the William Pitt Union on Thursdays.” Students are permitted to use their meal credit, or dining dollars, at any of these destinations.

The results of the 2015 Real Food Challenge exceeded expectations.

“The goal was to have 20 percent ‘real food’ at Market Central by 2020; we got there two years before the deadline,” said Yawitz. Motivated by the success of the first challenge, the university’s next Real Food Challenge goal is 25 percent real food by 2025.

“The 20/20 goal was just for Market Central, but the new goal is for all of the dining halls and the entire campus,” said Yawitz. “It’s a very big undertaking, but we’re confident we can make it happen.”

Goodfellow added that the new goal could quadruple the impact of the next phase of the initiative.

“I like the Real Food Challenge because of the student involvement and the values behind it,” he said. “They work with us collaboratively to identify ways to shift our procurement toward a more sustainable and local community-based food system."

He added, “I’m happy that our dining services can be utilized by students as a learning opportunity and can also create an economic opportunity in the local food economy, and support burgeoning, sustainable food systems.”