Updates to the Real Food Standards: 4 Ways We Are Addressing Changes in the Food Landscape

By Hannah Weinronk, Program Coordinator at the Real Food Challenge

Real Food Challenge (RFC), the largest student food justice organization in the country, and founding member of the HEAL Food Alliance, is excited to share a newly-released update to the Real Food Standards! For nearly a decade, RFC has led the way in defining Real Food on college & university campuses with the most comprehensive and up-to-date compilation of credible food labels and certifications on the market. The Standards were developed largely by students, in consultation with experts in the field. They shed light on the work of countless farmworker activists and food producers who have created systems for uplifting food products with fair labor, higher animal welfare, sustainability, and positive local community impact.

Download the Real Food Standards 2.1

College and university students across the country use these Standards to audit their institution’s purchasing and bring transparency and accountability to how they are — or are not — supporting Real Food. Using these Standards, student researchers have evaluated nearly $400,000,000 of college and university food purchasing to date.

In an effort to keep the Standards aligned with ongoing changes in the food landscape, Real Food Challenge student and alumni leaders have done research to update the Standards in consultation with farmers, fishermen, advocates and experts in the field. These updates also reflect ongoing alignment with the Center for Good Food Purchasing and Health Care Without Harm.

Check out the updated Real Food Standards 2.1 here! Important updates include:

  • Calling out prison labor

Prison labor is all too common in our food system today. Looking to the leadership of another of HEAL’s founding members, the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, RFC has reflected on the reality of prison labor, which operates in a setting where workers are under the persistent threat of violence, surveillance, and control. Regardless of pay or working conditions, it is involuntary and fundamentally unjust, yet still constitutional. The state and corporations profit off of the labor of incarcerated people, creating incentive to increase rates of incarceration, separating families and devastating communities. The Real Food Standards 2.1 expands the existing disqualification for forced labor to explicitly disqualify products produced in prisons or using contracted prison labor.

  • Uplifting the power of organized workers and small producers

In an agricultural industry with widespread exploitation, farmworkers are building power for dignity and fairness in the fields. The Real Food Standards continue to support powerful worker-driven social responsibility programs including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program and HEAL member Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity program. They also now recognize unionized farms including those with HEAL member Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the first union led by indigenous farmworkers in the U.S.

The Standards update also introduces the Small Producers’ Symbol (SPP), an “alliance among organized small producers to build a local and global market.” The SPP leans on the knowledge and expertise of small producers from organizations that value democratic organization and respect for local cultures, local economies, and environmental and human health.

  • Raising the bar on sustainability

Farmers, ranchers and others continue to raise the bar for organics with the new Regenerative Organics Certification, which aims to “increase soil organic matter over time, improve animal welfare, provide economic stability and fairness for farmers, ranchers, and workers, and create resilient regional ecosystems and communities.” This certification  joins many others recognized in the “Ecologically Sound” section of the Real Food Standards 2.1.

  • Expanding purchasing for local, community based seafood

As with land-based agriculture, fishing communities and fisheries alike are under attack from failed policy and corporate consolidation. In the face of these threats, community-based fishermen continue to practice sustainable small-scale fishing, supporting their communities and the ocean commons. In conversation with the HEAL members at the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and the Local Catch network, the Real Food Standards 2.1 expands the radius for purchasing from local and community based fishermen from 250 to 500 miles, encouraging institutions to support the true stewards of the ocean through the seafood served in their dining halls.

Check out more behind-the-scenes of the Standards in the Real Food Standards package here!

Still have questions? Email us at calculator@realfoodchallenge.org.


Hannah Weinronk is the national Program Coordinator at the Real Food Challenge. Since she began organizing with RFC as a college student, Hannah has been committed to bringing people together and building power to fight for change across our food system.

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