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From Providence College to the Northeast Student Leadership Training: One Student's Reflection

on September 8, 2010

My name is Kathleen Reside, and I'm a junior at Providence College, a campus contracted by Sodexo. I first heard about the Real Food Challenge at their conference at U Mass Amherst in 2009 as a freshman, and the information blew me away. The campus food system had been exposed, and although slightly overwhelmed, I felt like I had the power to change it.

I managed to convey my anger, disbelief and excitement about the food movement to Hollis, a friend at school, and the two of us enrolled in a course entitled, We Are What We Eat. Hollis and I were constantly bouncing ideas off of each other throughout the class on what we could do on campus to change the food culture. For our final project, we researched Sodexo, who boasts sustainability and in their mission and includes a local food policy, and we also wrote a plan of action for changing our campus food system.

We spent the spring semester working with dining services and other students to gauge student interest in real food as well as build up a team to work with us. David Schwartz, co-founder of RFC, attended a Real Food Dinner on our campus where we had a speaker from Slow Food RI and over fifty students attend (yay!). He invited us to the NE Real Food leadership training, which we attended two weeks ago in Stoughton, Mass.

The twenty of us at the training were students from ten different colleges/universities along with the RFC organizers, who all came together to support each other in the fight for real food through sharing ideas, experiences and hopes for the future of food.

The breakout sessions and workshops we participated in covered everything from storytelling to communication, campaign planning, dining food service contracts, the Real Food calculator, gardening, co-ops, and food justice. What really motivated me to action was the campaign planning session, because I rarely take the time to think out goals, tactics or the power structure I have to tackle, although it's such a critical step for any kind of action. It was extremely helpful to share these with other students from other campuses, who shared their past failures and successes, as well as their ideas for moving forward. One idea that we are going to try is to make a photo collage that reads "Real Food Now" with pictures of students holding signs saying just that.

"The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined.  If beef is your idea of "real food for real people" you'd better live real close to a real good hospital."  ~Neal Barnard

What made the training even better was the community feel that radiated from the passionate people surrounding me. Everyone took turns preparing our meals from fresh farm produce, and everyone left the dinner table feeling grateful for this wonderful community of people who truly appreciated food. We ate family style, beginning dinner with a round of thanks and a moment of gratitude for the inspiration and support of those around us. My favorite dishes were the peanut butter tofu, vegetable and rice stir fry, and watermelon gazpacho, although there wasn't anything I didn't like!

Nora from U Mass Amherst put it this way:

    "People want better food, and there are forces all over the place working slowly but steadily to turn this absurd system around. I loved talking to everybody and hearing their story of how they came to be concerned about the food system. Everybody came at it from really different angles- some from social justice backgrounds, some from cooking backgrounds, some from holistic health backgrounds, some from environmental science backgrounds, some from gardening backgrounds, some from former eating disorders. The most amazing thing about food is that everybody has some connection to it. Food is always relevant. This is why it is so important that we have access to and enjoy real food.
    …what greater pleasure could there be in life than sitting around an enormous dinner table, surrounding by candles and beautifully prepared delicious vegetarian dishes that we created and prepared together, holding hands with people we just met, giving thanks for our meal, and digging in? The final dinner was one of the loveliest meals I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience."