Thursday, November 6, 2014

UAF students strive to put Alaska-grown food on menu

A small student group has a big dream to serve up heaping helpings of local cuisine at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The Chancellor’s Student Food Committee has been working for a couple of years toward the goal of having campus dining services purchase 20 percent Alaska grown foods by 2020.
Food Day attendees enjoyed food prepared by the Community and Technical College culinary students. (Photo by Lisa Strecker)

When CSFC founding member Azara Mohammadi was an anthropology student at UAF she was excited to learn about holistic approaches to food security, which includes anthropological knowledge and conceptual tools. “The emphasis on understanding food as not just food, but a confluence of many of the aspects of human life within a unique ecological zone,” she said.

As an aspiring champion for local agriculture in the Fairbanks community, Mohammadi has attended conferences to learn how college campuses around the nation are successfully getting more locally grown food into student meal plans. What works in California or Texas may not work in Alaska so she has plowed diligently through numerous plans and worked with the student group to customize what might work best at UAF. “Right now we are helping the procurement committee write the best possible RFP (request for proposal) and trying to choose the best candidate for the dining services contract,” Mohammadi said.

To guide them, the CSFC members conducted a comprehensive survey of UAF students to assess food habits and desires. “There were surprising comparisons between local food and junk food,” Mohammadi said. “The opinion around campus is that undergrads want junk food, but very few students indicated it was important to them, but we saw that local foods are important to students.”

The survey, which is found, revealed that 27 percent of students responding strongly agree that local food is important to them. When asked why, comments included: “It is usually fresher and often tastes better.” “Because people in Fairbanks need to make a living and offering more food on campus from a variety of local places do better for the university as the local businesses.” “It’s often more environmentally friendly and economically advantageous.” “It should be fresh and contain all the nutrition the food would have when it is fresh.”

“The vegetables Fairbanks grows are fantastic.” “This is the best way to know where your food comes from. You can easily find out if pesticides were used, how it was packaged. Usually local food is not packaged to last a long time, meaning that the food is fresh and better for you because it doesn't have preservatives in it.” “I have grown up on a farm and know where my food comes from.

However, once I came here I was surprised to realize I never know where the food comes from and if it is even real (such as the eggs).” “Because when it's local, it's fresher. Plus, I think it is a great idea for us to support local growers so we can be as self-sustaining as possible. Another plus is that local farmers are much less likely to use the same commercial pesticides and fertilizers that big farming companies do.”

Another telling figure is that 37 percent strongly agree that they would like their meal plan to include more local food. “In general I feel happier when eating local, like I'm giving something back and helping those around me,” one student wrote.

When they aren’t surveying and petitioning or working on RFPs, the dedicated CSFC hosts food-awareness symposiums and events, the most recent being Food Day Oct. 24 at UAF.
Mohammadi said the group hardly promoted the nationally-connected event but drew between 150 to 200 attendees. “The turnout was amazing,” she said.

After UAF culinary students prepared and served locally grown foods, there were “lightning lectures” on pickling, Fish to School program in western Alaska, healthy eating and water and agriculture in Alaska. “People stayed for the talks even though they probably just came for the food,” Mohammadi said.

Lively discussion forums were held on Alaska’s food system and food security as well as “A Glimpse into Our Foodways,” in which 30 anthropology students presented short videos telling stories of everyday eating, holiday meals and adaptation to the foodways of college life.

Contact information:

No comments: