The Real Food Calculator's definitions represent a consensus among stakeholders on what makes food “real,” and thus sets a standard from which schools can make quantitative goals and track their progress toward more real food on campus. The standards are compiled in the Real Food Guide, a list of criteria that determine what qualifies as "real food," which aids researchers in their food procurement assessment. The criteria of each of the green, yellow, and red categories have been thoroughly researched and reviewed by experts.
Real Food Categories
- Local and Community-Based: These foods can be traced to nearby farms and businesses that are locally owned and operated. Sourcing these foods supports the local economy by keeping money in the community and builds community relations. The food travels fewer miles to reach consumers. The food is seasonal, and when it is fresh, it often has a higher nutrient content.
- Fair: Individuals involved in food production, distribution, preparation--and other parts of the food system—work in safe and fair conditions; receive a living wage; are ensured the right to organize and the right to a grievance process; and have equal opportunity for employment. Fair food builds community capacity and ensures and promotes socially just practices in the food system.
- Ecologically Sound: Farms, businesses, and other operations involved with food production practice environmental stewardship that conserves biodiversity and preserves natural resources, including energy, wildlife, water, air, and soil. Production practices should minimize toxic substances as well as direct and indirect petroleum inputs.
- Humane: Animals can express natural behavior in a low-stress environment and are raised with no hormones or unnecessary medication.
Real Food Criteria
Yellow light: counts as real food. Standards are not as strict as the Green Light criteria.
Red Light: criteria that do not meet our standards for real food. Many of today's conventional farming practices fall into this category. This category also contains many unsubstantiated and unverifiable claims, like "natural" or "GMO free." Products with ingredients that raise health concerns fall into this category.