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AASHE has partnered with Real Food Challenge (RFC) for a number of years to align the food standards recognized in the STARS Food and Beverage Purchasing credit and the Real Food Calculator. This alignment has had a number of benefits for participating institutions in North America, including providing a common set of criteria to use when working with dining service providers and vendors and eliminating the need for participants that are using both tools to conduct two different assessments.
By way of background, the Real Food Calculator is a tool developed for students in the U.S. to audit their institution’s dining purchases. Built around the Real Food Standards, the Real Food Calculator analyzes a campus’s purchasing patterns after students research and input food purchases from invoices they collect from their campus dining manager. Institutions can see how much real food – Local & Community Based, Fair, Ecologically Sound, and/or Humane foods – they buy, set new goals, and quantify the impact they have on building a more just and sustainable food system in their communities.
The Good Food Calculator serves the same purpose for students and institutions in Canada and this article applies to that program as well.
Under STARS 2.1, an institution can report the percentage of purchases that meet the Real Food Standards to complete Part 1 of the STARS Food and Beverage Purchasing credit. This may include informal application of the Real Food criteria, as well as formalized Calculator results. Some additional analysis is required to identify expenditures on conventional animal products for Part 2 of the credit.
Under STARS 2.2, an institution can only report verified Calculator results (i.e., the institution’s Real Food percentage as finalized by RFC staff) to STARS. If verified results are not available, an institution must use the STARS criteria. A separate analysis is required to identify expenditures on plant-based foods for Part 2 of the credit.
The standards recognized in the Calculator as Fair, Ecologically Sound, and/or Humane are also recognized in the STARS credit. Due to its international scope, STARS also recognizes additional standards that are relevant outside North America.
STARS 2.1 adopted the Real Food definition of Local & Community Based, which meant that local purchases could only qualify for STARS if the Real Food criteria were applied.
STARS 2.2 does NOT recognize local purchases solely based on their point of origin. The new version, does, however, recognize verified Real Food as a student-driven sustainability standard in its own right. This means that Local & Community Based purchases included in verified Calculator results qualify in STARS, but unverified local purchases do not. Therefore, an institution that has been using the Real Food definition of Local & Community Based informally to report to STARS will either have to exclude those purchases from its data or work with student researchers to deliver verified Real Food Calculator results.