By Scarlett Fox
It is no secret that Mississippi is ranked as one of the top states in America with the highest obesity problem. It is also well-known that one of the reasons for the typical college slogan, “the freshman 15” is the fast food restaurants that offer quick “grab n’ go” solutions for busy students.
Many will claim there are no other options, and in the past, that may have been true. However, there is now a small percentage of people in national and on-campus organizations that have realized the threat that processed foods play on American’s health, starting with college students.
One of these local organizations in Oxford is the student-led club Real Food Rebels. Promoting sustainable, “real food” on the Ole Miss campus and in people’s daily lives, the club consists of a 12-15 member group that works to promote educational opportunities for a healthy eating lifestyle.
So what is the difference between “real food” and what is now considered “regular food” in an everyday American diet?
Real food is defined as local, organic, additive free, and nutritional. By attempting to expand the club through putting on educational events, Real Food Rebels hopes to increase awareness of the harmful content that the food industry uses in their products.
The inspiration of the club came from the national group Food Action Rebels, the organization that launched Real Food Challenge to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local and community- based farming by 2020 (according to their website at http://www.realfoodchallenge.org).
Much like the Food Action Rebels, Real Food Rebels uses an outreach strategy that brings together students (including high-schoolers) and others from the community.
“We look to further this cause and encourage healthy eating habits through tabling, bringing farming markets to campus, hosting real food cooking nights, taking trips to local farms, and showing documentaries to educate our members and the public,” said Alex Borst, media and outreach chair for the Real Food Rebels.
One educational opportunity took place Oct. 7 in the Overby Center. Sponsored by the Real Food Rebels, the Office of Sustainability, Students for a Green Campus, the Student Dietetics Association, and the Environmental Studies Minor, students were able to watch the documentary “Fed Up”.
The film discussed the sugar industry in the United States that loads over 80 percent of food products in grocery stores with added sugar, and how diabetes and obesity will be the next major public health epidemic because of the additives.
Another opportunity for showcasing organic food will be on Oct. 16, where the 4th annual Food Day celebration will take place that allows farmers to visit the campus to sell their crops in front of the Student Union from 10 a.m until 2 p.m.
Along with the community and Ole Miss students, Real Food Rebels is also working with teachers, administrators, and even Aramark representatives, the company that controls campus dining.
According to Borst, the club has urged Aramark and the administration to take a candid look at the food system on campus and collectively find ways to make it better.
Borst also added that the club recognizes the challenge of eating locally, but the group can still fight incremental changes, and educate the community on what is and isn’t good for people to eat.
“We started this a year ago,” said Aramark Marketing Manager Richard Bradley regarding his close relationship with Real Food Rebels. “The discussions are mainly about how we are defining real food and what we do as a company to meet those parameters.”
Working closely with the club, Bradley said he attends many of the meetings and will be participating in food day.
Bradley also pointed out the challenges that come with trying to eat locally, one issue being that Mississippi does not have the same advantages to growing produce that states such as Florida and California do, which limits the amount of food that is available to the university.
Another major challenge are the mixed messages that Aramark receives from the students themselves when the company tries to align what students want and what they actually eat, such as consuming more of the less healthy options and not as much as the healthy ones.
Even with these challenges, that has not stopped Aramark from trying to give universities better food alternatives. Bradley said other schools and universities in the region that have Aramark accounts have started the process of contracting more local produce, such as the University of Florida.
“We get fresh produce delivered on a daily basis, unless it is a branded concept that is required to use a certain product,” said Bradley.
He said the specific places on campus that are integrating fresh produce, including the Rebel Market, the Marketplace at the Residential College, the Grill at 1810 and Freshii.
The Provisions on Demand Markets around campus are another alternative, where there is a wide variety of “grab n’ goes” that are made that day and are packaged on campus, meaning any salad or fruit cup a student purchases is freshly made.
Real Food Rebels is one of the prime examples of how students can make an impact in the community. By working to promote their cause of educating and making sustainable food more available to the people of Oxford, this student-led organization, along with others around the Ole Miss campus, shows how even young adults can make a difference in the community, and how these efforts can help teach future generations to set the bar high enough to ensure Americans demand nothing more than a quality lifestyle.