On paper Lauren Innes (B.S. Food Systems ’17) looks like a student who grew up with a passion for food: she’s majoring in food systems, part of the major’s student group, a member of U Students Like Good Food, and part of the Real Food Challenge team. However, the beginning of her junior year only marks her second semester focused on food. Innes grew up in Minneapolis, and when she started at the University as a pre-nursing student she had little interest in food systems.
One class changed the entire focus of her undergraduate career. “For a [Post Secondary Teaching and Learning] course I did a movie for a final project on Tracy Sides, a local woman who won a million dollar award and started Urban Oasis. Over the summer I started reading books that explored the difficulties with our current industrial food system and started researching ways I could get involved at a local level,” said Innes. After switching to food systems, her new interest led her to join the Real Food Challenge.
The Real Food Challenge is a national organization that works with school administrators and on-campus food decision makers to try to get more real food — defined as locally grown whole foods that are farmed through fair, ecologically sound and humane means — into university dining areas. Their goal at the U of M is to have 20 percent of food served in the dining halls be real food by 2020. In 2013 the group did an inventory of University Dining Services to see where they stood, and approximately 7 percent of the food offered was considered real. To show that there was support for this goal, team members traversed campus to get signatures from the University community.
“We got over 1,000 petitions signed, which is really exciting,” said Innes. “We weren’t sure how many we were going to get, so we’re really pleased with the amount of signatures.” Ultimately the group wants to get the petition signed by President Kaler, and hopefully that commitment from the highest level of the University will bring about change.
What really gives the group a voice is community involvement. In addition to having an active presence around campus, they have a Facebook page with the name “UMN Real Food Challenge.” Alumni, faculty and staff who are interested in being involved in the challenge can like the page to see upcoming events or initiatives. Students interested in getting involved should contact Karen Weldon, regional field coordinator, at [email protected].
After graduating, Innes is keeping her options open but still plans to focus on real food. She’s interested in combining food, youth and accessibility issues, and with the food systems major she’s been able to do that. “All of my classes are focused on public health, sustainability and different aspects of the food system. It’s 100% tailored to my interests, and I didn’t think that was something I’d be able to do in college,” said Innes. Right now she’s looking at joining the Food Corps after graduating, or possibly going for a Master’s in public health to look at food from a health and sustainability perspective.