Evaluating the successes and challenges toward achieving the Real Food Commitment at Johns Hopkins University


  • Jeremy Berger Johns Hopkins University
  • Raychel Santo Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Isabela Garces SAGE Fund




Local Food Systems, Sustainability, Food Procurement, Food Service, Real Food Challenge, Social Justice, Farm-to-Institution, Fair Trade, Animal Welfare, Higher Education


With their significant purchasing power, institu­tions of higher education can create substantial changes in the food system through their food purchases. The Real Food Challenge launched a national campaign in 2011 to shift food procure­ment at colleges and universities across the United States to local and community-based, fair, ecologi­cally sound, and humane sources. In 2013, the president of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) signed on to the Real Food Commitment, pledging to purchase at least 35% “Real Food” by 2020. Drawing on interviews with students, dining staff, and vendors as well as an analysis of purchasing data, this research analyzes the successes and challenges that JHU stakeholders encountered in their efforts to implement this commitment. Although the university fell short of achieving its goal of 35% “Real Food” procurement, JHU spent US$4.7 million on local and community-based, humane, ecologically sound, and fair foods between 2013 and 2019. Most of the university’s successful procurement shifts focused on local and community-based foods and animal source foods. Challenges that hindered additional procurement shifts included the volumes and food preparation required by the university, student dining prefer­ences, contracts that required purchasing from spe­cific vendors, and staffing limitations. Lessons learned from the implementation of the Real Food Commitment can inform the evolution of sustaina­ble and ethical food procurement standards at JHU as well as other universities and institutions. 


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Author Biographies

Jeremy Berger, Johns Hopkins University


Jeremy Berger is now at Equity Advocates, Harrison, NY USA.

Raychel Santo, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Senior Research Program Coordinator, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Isabela Garces, SAGE Fund

Senior Program Associate



How to Cite

Berger, J., Santo, R., & Garces, I. (2022). Evaluating the successes and challenges toward achieving the Real Food Commitment at Johns Hopkins University. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 11(4), 165–182. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2022.114.010