Putting the “Real” into Real Food

This past February, three members of the Environmental Center’s campus sustainability team traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to attend a Real Food Challenge Breaking Ground Summit. There, the team members met over 200 other like-minded students from over 70 universities, discussed ideas and tactics and ate delicious “real food.”

So what is real food? The Real Food Challenge is a nation-wide campaign that promotes the preparation of food that is produced locally with ethical, humane and environmentally sound practices in college campus dinning halls. The Real Food Challenge works to encourage college campuses across the nation to commit to serving 20% real food by 2020.

Switching to 20% local, ethical, humane and environmentally sound food is indeed a challenge. Adopting such a large percentage of new food requires stepping into uncharted territory—establishing new practices in food production (where we get the real food), purchasing (bringing it to the kitchens), and preparation (how it is cooked). At the three day conference, the Breaking Ground Summit provided students with helpful insights and tools through panel discussions and a series of workshops like Food System Working Groups: Building the Real Food System on CampusOrganizing & Strategic Campaign Planning and Food Justice: Privilege & Oppression in the Food System. Just as important as information, the summit provided an opportunity for networking. Our Fort Lewis students were able to make connections with nearby schools working on the Real Food Challenge such Denver University, who is in a similar stage. They were also able to swap ideas from other schools of similar size and dinning programs.

A photo from the Real Food Challenge Breaking-Ground Summit in Baltimore, MD.

A panel discussion including producers, consumers and distributors associated with a dinning service at an East coast school participating in the Real Food Challenge. Photo courtesy of Melanie Weber-Sauer.

Right now, Fort Lewis College is still just sprouting into the first stages of the Real Food Challenge. Stay tuned for our next steps and how we plan on moving our school towards a more sustainable dinning program!

For more information on the Real Food Challenge, check out their web site http://www.realfoodchallenge.org/. Or, feel free to email me at miwebersauer@fortlewis.edu.

By Melanie Weber-Sauer



When the first transition of Fall started a few weeks ago not uncommon to see students on campus sneezing and sniffling. I was not alone in when my throat stated hurting and I joined the ranks of the sickly. This was not the first time I had strep, or Streptococcus pyogenes and I recognized my symptoms  immediately. What was more upsetting was knowing what the treatment was for this ailment- antibiotics.

Antibiotics are regarded as the height of accomplishments in modern medicine. If we break down the etymology of the name we get biotic meaning “pertaining to life” and anti, meaning “against”.  Antibiotics kill any infections bacteria that make you sick, but it kills blindly. This violent act of medicine causes a cascade of health problems and environmental degradation.

Where do antibiotics come from? The active components in antibiotics originated from the natural world, many times from plants. Scientists identified the bacteria-resistant chemicals in herbal plants, isolated those chemicals, artificially reproduced them in a lab, and increased their strength 100s of times. Why is this bad? Let’s compare this method with analogist practice- monoculture farming. When farmers plant only one type of crop, they lose the many benefits of diversity. One of these benefits is how the crops genetic diversity protected them from bugs and disease.  Today we practice monomedicine. When we borrow a single chemical from nature, we lose hundreds of other diverse helpful chemical components already included by Mother Nature. Using just one compound opens the door for bacteria to become immune to the antibiotic, creating something stronger and untreatable.

Penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, originated from a mold. It was adopted commercially for treatment of infection in 1939. Ten years earlier, Alexander Fleming, the father of penicillin’s discovery, had already expressed his concerns. He reported that numerous bacteria strands were already becoming resistant to the drug. As use of penicillin became more widespread, this trend continued until penicillin was hardly effective. Because bacteria create a new generation every 20 minutes, it can rapidly evolve to become completely immune to any antibiotic drug.

The use of antibiotics is bigger than human health. The largest percent by mass of antibiotics used goes into the business of agriculture, fisheries and factory farms. The conditions that our food is produced under, which demand this high amount of antibacterial support, is a much longer topic for a different day. Instead, I want to focus on where the antibiotics go as waste. The antibiotic ridden waste of farms combines with our pharmaceutical waste, washes into waterways, and causing detrimental effects on ecosystems far and wide. Drug resistant super-bacteria are found in most riparian areas and oceans today. In addition to the spread of new disease, the anti-life drugs kill beneficial microbes and bacteria in soils, disturbing a delicate balance that supports all life.

Consuming antibiotics, as a byproduct in your hamburger or in prescribed pill compromises your health. Like the soil, our bodies are filled with beneficial bacteria that help us stay healthy. As I read about my step throat infection, I was interested to learn that the Streptococcus bacteria live in our throats usually.  This strand of strep wards off the colonization of the harmful Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria which makes us sick.

In an effort to reduce my environmental impact, and to keep myself healthy, I looked for alternatives cures for strep throat. I found in Stephan Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug Resistant Bacteria a mired of natural treatments to try. I choose a tincture of Echinacea  angustifolia, which I took every hour for 2 days until I was happily cured!

Melanie Weber-Sauer

Welcome to the Rocket Composter

The Rocket

The Rocket Composter at it's current location at the Student Union loading dock.

Just in time for spring, Fort Lewis College is becoming “greener”. It began at the Student Operations Summit in fall of 2009, when students declared sustainability a top priority for future funds. A study done in 2010 unveiled that Fort Lewis College students generated a collective .24 lbs of waste during each meal. Over the 31 weeks in academic year, the cumulative waste generated is 102.977. Based on this knowledge, the students decided their college’s waste problem was a pressing issue. Thus began a search for a composting system that could meet the sizable demands. Now after a long period of gathering support, funds, and research, the Rocket Composter is now up and ready to run. This new edition is predicted to eliminate 75,907 lbs of discarded food per academic year. This is waste that would otherwise occupy a landfill. This huge stride in waste management has helped the school meet its goal to reduce food waste by 70%, one of many goals found in the college’s Suitability Action Plan.

Presently, large-scale composting is relatively uncharted terrain. The United States has only nine campuses with Rocket Composters, making Fort Lewis a pioneer in campus composting. The composter is partly operated by the student organization the Environmental Center, providing unique opportunities for environmentally minded students to work with and learn from the composter.

Collaboration makes operation of the Rocket Composter possible.  Sedexo’s participation has been the key in making the the compost dream a reality. Their staff sorts the disposed food from the dishes, putting it into their pulper machine, and preparing it for its micro-organismic journey to become compost. Sedexo’s eagerness to work with the school’s Environmental Center has created a great climate for positive change on Campus.  We hope that our partnered success sets an example for other campuses, communities and businesses to explore the benefits of large scale composting.

~ Melanie Weber-Sauer