When Hai started college, he weighed over 250 pounds, healthy food choices were difficult for him, and he was emotionally distraught. However, when he left home for college, he was able for the first time to start taking his life and weight into his own hands. He started by shopping at a local farmer's market, an experience that inspired him profoundly. The idea that a farmer's market represents local, sustainable, wholesome food with a human connection where you can interact with the people that grow your produce was extremely appealing to him, and he began to think about the food that people at his university were eating. From what he saw at farmer's markets, Hai realized that dining hall food was not "real" food. A lot of it is frozen or processed, and has unhealthy additives. His ideas continued to develop as he started taking classes about food sustainability at university, and after the summer of 2008 during which he collaborated with other students, he launched into his senior year at UCI full force with the Read Food Challenge campaign, a project he co-founded that aims to re-invest university spending in food that is "real": ecologically-sound, community-based, humane, and fair; as opposed to those traditional purchases with those unwholesome additives and processed products.
Hai helped develop the Real Food Calculator, a tool used to quantify whether food is "real." Using the Calculator, Hai and others at RFC executed a baseline study of UCI Dining's food procurement, its effects on the food system, and stakeholders involved. Hai helped to put together Real Food Roundtables and Dinners, bringing together students and community members to talk about food systems. RFC student leaders also had Real Food Retreats to develop dynamic leadership skills. The efforts of Hai and his fellow RFC leaders has caused the University of California school system to develop a Sustainable Food Systems Working Group, comprised of 40 administrators, food service managers, professors, and students in RFC, which passed a policy requiring campus baseline food purchasing assessments by December 2010 and commitments to 20% real and sustainable food by 2020 for all UC campuses.
Under Hai's leadership, UCI served as a pilot school for the Real Food Challenge, a program that was then implemented throughout the University of California college system. His work at UCI has inspired dozens of other students and school administrators across UC campuses to become involved in the movement for sustainable, "real" food, who are now involved in the RFC effort and work of the Sustainable Food Systems Working Group. Hai and RFC have not only brought the issue of food sustainability to the table for the whole UC system, but also to big food production corporations, such as Aramark.
Not only has Hai started a movement of change across the University of California dining system, but he has also grown tremendously as an individual, now with strong leadership abilities and great vision. In addition, after he started learning about food sustainability and taking action at UCI, Hai has lost over 100 pounds, and has been able to start enjoying activities such as backpacking and swimming that were not a possibility for him previously.
Submitted by Anonymous
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