In the last year, Seth Bayliss ’20, a sociology and social justice major, has sifted through stacks of invoices, researched thousands of food items, and entered over 11,000 bits of data into a spreadsheet. Bayliss’ deep dive into food purchases was part of the Real Food Standards, a national initiative to encourage colleges to shift from conventional foods to local and community-based, ecologically sound, humane, and certified fair trade foods.
“For more than two decades, Northland College has been a champion of local foods,” said Todd Rothe ’10, manager of the Hulings Rice Food Center. “Real Food provides standards that go beyond local and help us be more deliberate in all of our purchasing.”
As the Hulings Rice Food Center Real Food intern, Bayliss has audited all foodservice purchases for the 2018-19 academic year to identify ways to improve the College’s sustainable food procurement—and is currently assessing the 2019-20 purchases. Through its provider Chartwells, Northland currently purchases twenty percent real food—local, organic, humane, and/or fair trade—and is looking to the future, creating baseline data, goals, and policies.
“Seth’s data have enabled the College to make more informed purchasing decisions, track our progress, and affect greater change in the food system,” said Rothe, who serves on the College’s Sustainability Work Group and Food Committee.
Over the past year, the Food Committee has used Bayliss’s research to develop policies and standards that better align with the Real Food standards and campus community values. The work isn’t over, but Bayliss is optimistic about the future of Northland’s food program.
“I believe that changing the complex global food system will require institutions like Northland to utilize a holistic and inclusive approach,” he said. “Buying certified organic is important, but demanding fair labor conditions for farmworkers and humane animal treatment are equally important. In fact, it’s vital to creating a food system that takes social justice seriously.”