Real Food Week: Hamilton goes loco for local

By Kaitlin McCabe '16

Where and how the food on our plates was produced is not typically our first consideration when we sit down to eat our meals.  For Hamilton students Heather Krieger ’14 , Sally Bourdon ’15 and Morgan Osborn ’14, however, the mission to eat  “real” food—defined by the Real Food Challenge group as local, ecologically sound (low-impact or organic), humane, and fair trade products—is of the utmost importance towards the improvement of our community’s economical and nutritional well-being.

According to the organization’s website, the Real Food Challenge “leverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair and green food system.”  Its primary campaign is to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community-based food sources by 2020.  A notable feature of the organization is that its driving force comes directly from student activists, such as Krieger and Osborn, co-leaders of Hamilton College’s Slow Food organization.  These leaders not only give fuel to the real food movement on campus but also remain in frequent contact with representatives from the national organization as well as students from schools throughout the country to offer advice, share challenges/weaknesses, etc.

With the assistance of other Slow Food-like groups nationwide, Krieger and Osborn will join with students and faculty on October 24—National Food Day—to present a proposal to launch a campus-wide decision to eat “real” food to President Stewart.

“Hamilton is located in an agricultural region, and we are privileged to have so many farmers nearby. I think it’s important for the Hamilton community to realize this and strengthen connections between our school and these producers,” Krieger said. 

“We are lucky to be at Hamilton, this institution with tremendous purchasing power that has the potential to [affect] change and directly support local, humane, environmentally conscious food producers,” Osborn added.

Hamilton College, with the assistance of its catering service Bon Appétit, has encouraged students to eat real and local food for the past 10 years, according to General Manager of Bon Appétit  Pat Raynard.  This year, however, the food service is teaming with campus groups, including Slow Food and the Community Farm, in an effort—appropriately titled Real Food Week— to convey to students and faculty the importance and benefits of eating such products.  Real Food Week aims to start a campus-wide dialogue about food from various angles; throughout the week, the groups strove to spur conversations about the economic, ecological and health benefits of eating local, the challenges surrounding organic food, the importance of access to culturally appropriate foods, the lives of producers and the globalization of the food industry.

The week began with a Farmer’s Market along Martin’s Way on Monday, Sept. 23.  During this small event, students and faculty were able to purchase locally grown and produced vegetables, meat and pastries from both the Hamilton Community Farm as well as nearby businesses.  Later in the day, Bon Appétit  provided students with a taste of local, “real” fare—kale, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, etc.—through its food sampling in the Sadove Living Room.  During this event, Raynard and Bon Appétit  Executive Chef Derek Roy sought to teach participants how to eat these foods while they are in season and how Hamilton has been working towards keeping food in the dining halls “real.”

The entire Hamilton community indulged in local treats on Tuesday during the Eat Local Challenge in the McEwen Courtyard.  According to Raynard, when Bon Appétit launched its first Eat Local Challenge in 2005, “the idea of caring about ‘local food’ was a novelty, not a national movement.” Thus, the main goal behind the annual event was to encourage people to seek out the plethora of food growing in surrounding areas. Offering healthy and organically-grown delicacies including, though not limited to, salt potatoes, honeyed raspberries , sun gold tomato salad, and roast pork loin, the meal advocated for local goods in that all of the products came from local farmers and artisans within 150 miles of Hamilton College.

Students and faculty filled up all of the registration spots allotted for Wednesday’s Real Food Wellness Luncheon in the Blood Fitness Center.  The presentation featured a panel of local, farm-to-table and sustainable restaurant owners including Utica’s Tailor and the Cook as well as Hamilton’s own Café Opus and Bon Appétit.  In addition to consuming a meal created entirely with local, organic ingredients, participants were able to learn from the speakers about what they choose to incorporate in their recipes and why they believe it is important to keep their food “real.”

The remaining days of Hamilton’s official Real Food Week includes more unique opportunities to learn more about the Real Food vision for the food industry.  On Thursday, Sept. 26 at 3:00 p.m., Bon Appétit’s regional nutritionist Danielle Rossner will speak to students about the benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets and also distinguish between facts and myths concerning these lifestyles.  Later in the evening, the Little Pub will feature beers and ciders from local breweries, which the students can drink with samples of local cheese.  The week-long event will conclude Friday at 6 p.m.with a community potluck dinner at McEwen, during which the Hamilton community is welcome to join with the Mohawk Valley Slow Food group for another delectably organic and local meal.  The campus community is also encouraged to bring homemade dishes for others to sample.

Krieger and Osborn, as well as others involved in Real Food Week, hope that the event will impact the food decisions the Hamilton community makes. Osborn said, “These choices we make three times a day have an effect on other people and our environment somewhere down the line.”

Real Food Week has catalyzed an ongoing discussion on campus about the importance of eating local products.  By continuing this conversation, Krieger wants to shed light on the organic and ecological options the majority of the Hamilton community unwitingly  enjoys.  Her ultimate goal for the community’s members is illustrated in her final, powerful statement: “It’s so easy to take our food for granted and forget that it has most likely travelled hundreds of miles and passed through numerous hands to reach our plates.”

After Real Food Week, it is unquestionable that the source and treatment of food will become a core concern at each and every one of our meals.


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