Aramark Corporation employs 255,000 people worldwide and does business in 22 countries. In 2011, the corporation was honored by Fortune as one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies.” Their total revenue was $12.6 billion in 2010. They are one of the three largest food distribution corporation in the world and over 600 colleges and universities contract with Aramark for dining services. According to its website, Aramark strives to offer colleges and universities “fresh whole foods that are raised, grown, harvested and produced locally and in a sustainable manner.” However, its client universities and colleges have very little ability to buy food “produced locally and in a sustainable manner” because Aramark’s multi-billion dollar contracts with agro-industrial corporations such as Tyson mandate that Aramark’s clients source their food through contracts that run through Aramark’s corporate Philadelphia offices. Needless to say, Tyson does not raise its chickens in a sustainable manner but instead does so in concentrated animal feeding operations. Neither does it treat its chicken-farmers well: The relationship between Tyson and its chicken-farmers resembles the lord-serf relationship in medieval Europe.
Now to bring it back to the College. Bob Volpi is our director of Dining Services. He has an office in Droppers and loves to talk to students about food at the College. He reports directly to Hopkins Hall. He does not report to a corporate office. He is responsible for all purchasing for Dining Services. He sources as much food as he can locally, and students can (and should) drive a few minutes west on Route 2 to Peace Valley Farm and meet Bill Stinson, whom Volpi personally works with in order to bring local and sustainably-grown produce to Mission, Driscoll and Whitmans’. Dining Services is more than happy to meet with students to talk about where the food comes from. The transparency with which they operate is both admirable and instructive.
Unfortunately, students at the College do not ask enough of these questions about where their food is coming from, who is producing it and what sorts of agricultural and labor practices are being utilized. Recently, Celeste Berg ’13, Eirann Cohen ’15 and I became involved in a national organization called the Real Food Challenge, which mobilizes students across the country to work with their dining services in an effort to purchase 20 percent of all food from local, fair, ecologically sound or humane sources by 2020. This effort requires that students educate their campuses about food systems and the incredible purchasing power that colleges and universities have, and thereby harnessing the power that colleges and universities have to fix our broken food system. As evidence of this, nationwide collegiate food purchasing is on the order of $5 billion annually.
I hope that students on this campus will acknowledge their good fortune in having a self-operated Dining Services eager to work with students and in living in this particular region of the country, which has an incredibly rich agricultural history and continues to be home to countless farms that utilize sustainable practices. I also hope that we do not settle for our good fortune but keep pushing ourselves, our community and Dining Services to source our food in an even more sustainable manner. We can always do more, and in fact, we must do more.
Aramark recently issued a memo to its campus managers forbidding them to interact or work with students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge. Although Aramark’s website insists it “conducts business with the utmost integrity and according to the highest ethical standards,” it is currently refusing to allow students to have a say in the food they eat and blocking students’ access to Aramark’s purchasing records. In its justification for such action, Aramark cited the fact that students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge were advocating on behalf of a labor union. This claim is patently false; the Real Food Challenge is a movement by students and for students. Its central belief is that students have always been, and must continue to be, a strong voice for social change.
I cite this issue for several reasons. First, what Aramark is doing is indicative of a larger and more sinister reality: The government, the USDA, the FDA and the corporations that control our food system, such as Tyson, Monsanto and Aramark, are devaluing not only the environment and general nutrition, but are also devaluing and destroying people and communities. Second, the discussion on this campus about the food system in general and the College’s relation to the food system specifically is generally unengaged. While we eat well here, we are still tied up, directly and indirectly, with the corporations that mistreat their workers and that have created an unjust and unsustainable food system. So first and foremost, ask questions. Where does the food you eat come from? Who is making it? What is the government’s role in the food system? What is the College’s role in the food system? We are very fortunate to go to a college where the student voice is listened to and respected. Students catalyzed the Civil Rights movement. Students led the movement to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. It will be students who save the food system, and that movement has already begun. Let’s get on board.
Jacob Addelson ’14 is from Concord, Mass. He lives in Carter.