Real Meals, Not Dirty Deals: A National Coalition Calls for Food Justice

By Julianna Fischer & Amy MacKown

Picture of woman catching crab – We Feed the World, The Gaia Foundation. Photographer: Holly Lynton – Real Meals Issue 18
We Feed the World, The Gaia Foundation. Photographer: Holly Lynton

Imagine a world where the food we eat nourishes not only our bodies, but the land and seas around us. This is a world where farmers, fishers, and all those who work in fields, boats, packaging and distribution are paid fair wages and are afforded lives with dignity, lives free from racism, income inequality, and environmental destruction. This is a world where the ecosystems that produce our food are cared for wisely and not exploited.

Unfortunately, we’re far from that reality right now. The way our food is produced and distributed is directly linked to society’s most urgent problems of climate change, ecosystem degradation, income inequality, and racism. We live in a society where immigrants are abused in the fields; fishing communities are collapsing; Black farmers are systematically shut out of their local markets, and students either go hungry or have no choice but to eat overly processed foods in their schools.

The massive, multinational food and beverage corporations are responsible for these problems. These are the same Big Food companies who have rigged the food economy in their favor at the expense of people and the planet. Just like we have come to understand the problems with Big Oil and Big Tobacco, we also need to talk about the problems of Big Food and the power these consolidated industries wield.


A national campaign launched this Fall is doing just that, taking an honest look at how our country feeds itself and focusing on the food service providers who choose what’s on the menu for so many people.

The Real Meals Campaign was launched by the Community Coalition for Real Meals, a coalition of farmers, fishers, ranchers, food workers, students, educators, and environmental advocates who recognize how better food is a solution to some of our biggest problems.

Diagram of the Real Food Wheel
Real Food Challenge’s Definition of Real Food

The Real Meals Campaign is about leveraging the massive food purchasing power of the three largest food service management companies that dominate the cafeteria market: Compass Group, Aramark, and Sodexo. We’re calling on these three companies to shift to a purchasing system that is fundamentally oriented toward Real Food and phases out a system of exclusive relationships with Big Food. Unfair business practices common to this industry lock in Big Food manufacturers like Tyson, Cargill, and Coca-Cola and lock out independent family farmers, ranchers, and fishers whose supply chains are based in fairness and sustainability.

The goal: to redirect approximately $800 million away from Big Food and towards food production that protects our environment and fairly compensates farmers, fishers, and workers. For context, the largest of these companies, Compass Group, earns over $20 billion each year in global revenue. That’s almost as big as McDonald’s globally. Together, these three companies control 83% of our food service market. This means they have tremendous amounts of buying power, and, therefore, a tremendous potential to be a force of positive change.

Drop Big Food, Invest in a Food System with a Future

Specifically, we are asking these three corporations to ensure that a minimum of 25% of their food is ecologically sound, fair, humane, local and community-based. This includes asking that they increase racial justice and equity by expanding their purchasing from historically underserved producers. Additionally, we ask that they do their part to fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions and factory-farmed meat purchases. This shift would collectively redirect approximately $800 million away from a system that extracts wealth and wellbeing from communities, and towards food production that protects our environment and fairly compensates family farmers, fishers, and workers.

But what is real food? Real food is a holistic term defined by the organization Real Food Challenge, a member of the Community Coalition for Real Meals, to describe food that “truly nourishes consumers, producers, communities, and the earth – all aspects of the food system.” The Community Coalition for Real Meals is a nine organization coalition including the Domestic Fair Trade Association, Fair World Project, Friends of the Earth, HEAL Food Alliance, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, Operation Spring Plant, Organization for Competitive Markets, Public Justice, and Real Food Challenge. An additional 60 organizations have endorsed the campaign as well.

Support the Real Meals Campaign

The Coalition is well on its way to exceeding a goal of 100,000 petition signatures in early 2019. Please join us by visiting our website, and sign the petition to send a strong message that these changes are urgent, important, and necessary. This coalition is about working together to change our food system, no matter where you fit into it – whether as a food producer, an eater, or somewhere else along the supply chain.

To learn more, sign the petition, and get involved, visit:

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