Analyzing Ohio State University’s Food Purchasing System: Opportunities for Change through the Real Food Challenge

Apr 27, 2015, 3:00pm - 4:00pm

An Honors Thesis presentation will be made by Laura Kington (Jeff Sharp, advisor), titled Analyzing Ohio State University’s Food Purchasing System:  Opportunities for Change through the Real Food Challenge, in 370 Kottman Hall.

 Student activists at Ohio State University (OSU) seek to achieve a university commitment to the Real Food Challenge (RFC), a national movement which seeks to drive change in the food system through colleges and universities. In order to assess the likelihood of a commitment by OSU, this study analyzes RFC through a diffusion of innovations framework and explores barriers to and opportunities for adoption. First, I examine characteristics common among institutions which have adopted RFC in order to compare them to OSU. In order to understand barriers presented by these and further structural qualities of OSU, I then illustrate a map of OSU food purchasing through secondary analysis of web data and informal interviews. Through the construction of this map and the identification and analysis of critical decision making nodes, I show that food enters the OSU dining system through a small number of pathways controlled by few critical decision makers. This study reveals the main barriers to OSU adopting RFC to be the lack of a cause “champion” and support among decision makers, lack of sufficient pressure from students, and barriers associated with OSU’s size, while the primary opportunities are in the flexibility offered by OSU maintaining a self-operated dining system, the sympathy to the cause offered by some decision makers, and the ability of students to increase pressure. Strategy suggestions are offered for student activists, while questions regarding the efficacy of RFC as a strategy to achieve alternative food system goals and further research questions are raised.