University of Kentucky researchers will study UK's local food purchases more carefully in order to increase how much is bought from Kentucky farms.
"Our shared goal is to create measures of local food sourcing beyond those already established and reported at UK, thereby providing a more complete, meaningful picture," said Scott Smith, director of UK's Food Connection in an email last week to the campus community.
In August, UK revealed that half of the local food purchases made by its dining partner, Aramark, were for soda and ice.
Aramark spent $1.1 million on food products produced in Fayette County or the six contiguous counties, and another $1.2 million on products labeled Kentucky Proud by the state Department of Agriculture. It spent a total of $10 million on food in fiscal year 2015.
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In the local column, Aramark reported spending $1 million for Coca-Cola beverages, $45,000 for ice from Home City Ice, $39,000 for Pepsi products and $5,000 for drinks from Ale-8-One, which in based in Winchester. UK officials said they had always considered soda to be local because Coke and Pepsi have bottling plants in Lexington.
Despite disappointment from food activists over the soda revelation, UK has said it will not alter the definition of local food in its 15-year, $245 million contract with Aramark. The contract included $70 million from Aramark to build new eating spaces and $5 million for the Food Connection.
"We are holding Aramark to the same standards that the university operation held itself to when it was a self-operated enterprise," said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. "We still believe that's an issue of fundamental fairness."
Smith said he and others will categorize purchases based on where the food is grown or produced and the location of the supplying vendor. For example, a Kentucky milk company might get some or most of its milk from out-of-state cows. A food subcontractor might be based in Kentucky, but get all its produce from other states. Those distinctions have never been studied.
Smith said researchers also will develop a database of food vendors in Kentucky. The first report is expected before the end of the year.
Anita Courtney, director of the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition in Lexington, said she was "disheartened" that UK counts Coke as local food but that the newly-announced UK Dining Impact Assessment is "a good step in the right direction."
"I hope that the information collected will inform the policies and practices of our land-grant university so that UK will have an increasingly meaningful impact on the local farm economy and the health of its students," Courtney said in an email.
Smith said the far-ranging goals of the assessment are aimed at improving local food economies across Kentucky.
"Some good things are happening," he said. "But this is really difficult and what we need is much more careful analysis of what good is happening and why things are difficult and that's what we're trying to do."