Food Systems Paper, needs love.
Self-Op and the Food Service Contract
Amongst students it is hoped that a self-operating food service would utilize local resources, circulate money in the local economy, provide experiential learning for students in a variety of occupational fields, and be more environmentally sustainable in comparison to other food service options. To be clear, “think of it as self run…Self-operated food service means that the college would be in charge, the college would hire managers, employ workers, and make money or lose money (Changing the Face of Food. slide show. Tyler Crawford),” suggests Tyler Crawford (T-Claw), founder of The Flaming Eggplant Café. Positively, he notes that self-op would “maximize versatility in supplying student needs” and “allow prices to be at subsistence level…or with some profits going back to the school.” And though, “sustainability isn’t just a bandwagon we’re hopping onto. It’s woven into the very fabric of our identity, and history, as an institution,” says the President of the Evergreen State College, foundational elements are missing to make the transition.
In 2001 a Food Service Disappearing Task Force (DTF), assigned to explore food service options (supported by a private consulting firm), recommended a transition to a self-op food system; they also acknowledged that Evergreen’s top priority was to ensure that their food was healthy. But there wasn’t enough time or money to make the transition to self-op before the expiration of the previous contract. At the time Sodexho was a main bidder for the contract. A group of students wore masks to an open meeting between Evergreen and Sodexho to prevent Sodexho from being on campus due to their human rights violations. According to the Flaming Eggplant’s website: “The corporate executives were intimidated and retracted their bid due to anti-corporate climate on campus.” Consequently Bon Appetite won the contract. From 2001 to 2004 Evergreen lost an average of $1.5 million a year to Bon Appetite. Bon Appetite wasn’t the only food system to lose money for Evergreen. All previous and current student operated food systems have lost money annually, as well.
In the spring of 2004, with Bon Apetite’s contract ending, Students Organizing for Food Autonomy (SOFA) gathered over 600 signatures in a campaign to end corporate food services on campus and to transition to a sustainable self-op food system. In the summer of 2004 Aramark won the bid, being the only bidder. “That winter members of SOFA provided weekly potlucks to show support for food service change, feeding over a hundred students a week for almost two years – against administrative efforts to shut them down,” according to The Flaming Eggplant Cafe’s website. In 2006 SOFA members were persuaded to quit their efforts of a large-scale self-op food system. Instead they began to create the Flaming Eggplant Cafe.
A Green Campus Life
Today, “The Flaming Eggplant is a student-run cafe at the Evergreen State College. [who] strive to use seasonal recipes based on food that is locally available and organically grown,” says The Flaming Eggplant website. Environmental sustainability and food are visible and vocal centers of community at Evergreen. In addition to programs – Practice of Sustainable Agriculture,Food Health and Sustainability, Ecological Agriculture, Farm to Table, Plant Chemistry – a variety of student groups and physical spaces exist with similar intentions: Developing Ecological Aware Practices (DEAP), Evergreen Students for Sustainable Animal Agriculture (Sheep Club), Community Gardens, Environmental Studies Group, Campus Food Coalition, The Flaming Eggplant Cafe, the Organic Farm, the Farm House, Demeter’s Garden, a compost facility, and a bio-diesel facility. “Sustainability values permeate all divisions and levels of college operations, and the college coordinates and integrates its decisions and actions with those values in diverse ways,” says Evergreen’s sustainability website. Additionally, Evergreen is committed to becoming carbon neutral and zero waste by 2020.
3 Changes Students Would Like to See
Within the current food service contract there is no definition of local or sustainable. When recording local purchases Aramark claims to adhere to the sustainable food purchasing metrics of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). AASHE defines local as: grown and processed within 250 miles of the institution. Large distributers and processors, Aramark counts as local, have local locations, but the food they process and distribute is not locally grown – such as L&E Bottling (Pepsi products) and Sysco (2012 Sustainability Report, Aramark). Jessica Honiker, Aramark’s Sustainability Intern, believes clear definitions within the new contract are essential. “If the numbers go down, so be it…not having local defined only supports consumerism,” says Jessica. Earlier this year she worked with Aramark to re-label the food purchased from L&E Bottling. Jessica states, “I will not count Pepsi as a local food. It doesn’t support our community or our local farmers.” For Jessica the definition of local should consider local farmers and local community, not the last place a food product was assembled.
The Flaming Eggplant Cafe’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), an agreement between the school and the Cafe, makes clear, “the College’s commitment in supporting both the contracted food service provider and The Flaming Eggplant Café.” The MOU establishes non-competition: “The Flaming Eggplant will not provide on-campus catering services or meal plan packages.” Those are two major sources of revenue for any food service provider – two that The Flaming Eggplant doesn’t have. Eli Evans, of the Cafe’s Expansion Committee, recalls a project the committee was working on: “last spring (2012) we’re working towards an espresso stand that would be in red square…a centrally located area, reaching more staff and administration and able to be open later for evening and weekend studies…we wrote a big business proposal and saw that it would take seven to eight thousand, but became freaked out about the price.” Aramark opened the Alcove this fall in the exact place the Expansion Committee had their eyes on (Alcove ours were not set in march when they named hours of operation in the March agreement, 2012). Money is tight at the Cafe. Currently, workers receive minimum wage and no benefits. If one thing could change in this coming contract the Cafe would like to be able to take on catering contracts.
Every March Aramark and Evergreen meet to amend the food service contract. At these meetings: the proceeding year’s Greenery prices are agreed upon; a commission price for the following year is set, paying to Evergreen; food subsidies have been established; a 175,000 capital investment was accepted; operating hours are agreed upon; and The Flaming Eggplant was accepted into the food service contract. In the first amendment phase: Section 220.127.116.11, a $150,000 Financial Commitment, was added to the contract – binding Aramark to Evergreen.In the second amendment phase, “exception[s] to Aramark catering shall be agreed to in writing by Aramark,” was added toSection 1.1 Premises, Exclusive Rights, and Exceptions. Most students are unaware of this. In the last Request for Proposals (RFP) meeting transparency was requested in each category: staff monitoring of contractual services (Business); transparency and accountability in food sourcing (Sustainability and Social Justice); less exclusivity and more accountability (Exclusivity and Accountability); more dialogue and transparency with the campus community on a quarterly basis (Communication to the Community); and more extensive food labeling and nutrition information (Other).
Sustainability within Aramark
Aramark does make efforts to meet the demands and requests of students, specifically requests of sustainability. Within the food service contract Aramark agreed to cooperate with the Evergreen Composting Project & Recycling Program (17.1). Aramark agreed to purchase food from the Organic Farm on campus within, “its commercially reasonable efforts…Aramark will retain the ultimate discretion over its purchasing sources (3.13.2)” Aramark also agreed to “consider establishing or supporting an internship program such as one that will involve locating sources of locally grown items.” In 2006 with the support of a sustainability intern Aramark purchased 17% of their non-vending food from local or organic sources. In 2008 Aramark boasted that local or organic food was 42% of all non-vending food purchases. Craig Ward, Food Service Director at the time, claimed: “Evergreen could reach 47 percent production from local and organic sources, says Food Service Director.” In 2012, “approximately 32 percent of Evergreen’s food purchases comes from local and organic sources.” Says Evergreen’s Sustainable Food Practices website. By working with students Aramark banned plastic bottles and began providing trayless dining. In the fall of 2012 Aramark began donating left over food to the Thurston County Food Bank. In the first three weeks of school the Greenery donated 400lbs of food. The Greenery has also switched over to compostable ware. Compostable plates, napkins, and other utensils are part of Aramark’s catering service; this service is called Zero Waste Catering. Aramark reports on their website that “Over the past 2 years, we have reduced our cleaning chemical usage by 38%.” $16,000 was donated to the Organic farm in 2006, to support damages incurred by a storm. To service a full range of dietary needs Aramark has created the Worry Free Zone, a corner space in the Greenery. There they serve gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegan food. Additionally, there is a food service committee: “This committee will be responsible for gathering community comments, frequently dine in the facilities [meal cards will be provided by Evergreen, at its cost, for this purpose], and have direct responsibility for recommending improvements to the overall food service operation. Aramark will work closely with the committee to develop a viable campus communication plan, specifically to reach students. (Section 1.4 of the food contract)”
Money: Mobility & Accessibility
“In the current economic climate, the campus is not prepared for the expense of making the food operation self operated,” says the RFP Frequently Asked Questions webpage. In 2011, for the first time, Evergreen profited from their food service provider. Aramark paid Evergreen a commission of $220,000 for the year, and has paid Evergreen an incrementally increased commission for each year that they have been on campus. In contrast Evergreen has seen two decades of state cut backs. In the early 90’s 78% of Evergreen’s revenue was state funded, in the early 2000’s it was 61%, in 2011 it was 43%. According to the Evergreen’s 2012 Performance Plan:
“Since 2008 state funding for Evergreen has been reduced by half. The current appropriation for 2012-13 is set at 35%, with a decline to 30% if the Governor’s proposed budget is passed and no additional revenues are approved for higher education. To mitigate this dramatic loss in state funding Evergreen has increased tuition by nearly 70% and made substantial reductions to every part of the institution.”
At the same time Evergreen has continued to fight hard to keep college education accessible to underrepresented students. In 2010 Evergreen admitted 400 students beyond their funding level. In 2011: 67% of students received financial aid, 47% of students were low-income students, 29% were first generation college students, 22% were students of color. “Furthermore 81% of all baccalaureate degrees awarded to Evergreen’s class of 2011 were earned by students who identify as traditionally underserved,” according to the 2011-13 budget proposal. In 2009-2011 student tuition was the largest revenue source, for the first time in history. “Staff and faculty are continuing to do more with less as the college freezes hiring of vacant positions combined with a climate of uncertainty with regard to job security…we anticipate student demand, but we can no longer afford to be both efficient and effective serving the existing student enrollment levels as further state budget reductions are required given the economic conditions caused by the recession,” the proposal says.
Through budget cut backs, in 2004 and 2008 Residential and Dining Services (RAD) subsidized mandatory meal plans. According to Sharon Goodman, Director of Housing and Dining Services, “RAD was subsidizing meal plans because Aramark was trying to raise prices. [RAD was] Fighting for access for students.” RAD annually pays the utilities, all dining material goods, and facility upkeep.
In front of Evergreen’s conviction for environmental sustainability, the school is working to ensure: that higher education is accessible to disadvantaged communities; that Evergreen’s programs and services are maintained; and that teacher salaries are not further reduced.
Rundown of Request for Proposals
The RFP was finalized at the end of fall quarter 2012. The current RFP has ten main points that are thorough. Two of them are: asking the vendor their relationship to local, environmentally sustainable, fair, humane sourcing – How they meet these goals and what potential barriers do they see?; and, How will you regularly inform the community about current vendors including producers, processors, and distributors, past and present? In the winter of 2013 the RFP will be open to the public and interested vendors will present their services. In the spring of 2013 the school will announce the “apparent successful vendor.” In the summer of 2013 the contract will be prepared and signed. On September 1, 2013 the contract will begin.
Alternative Food Ideas
Outside of the food service contract community groups and individuals continue to work towards solutions that make campus food more healthy, sustainable, and accessible. Matt Wilson, of the Campus Food Coalition, would like to see food trucks on campus:
“Actually food trucks keep prices down with vendors competing for food…because they are smaller they would be willing to work with Evergreen. Three or four food trucks could schedule themselves with the school.”
Food trucks are small local businesses; with a few of them they could provide diverse food options. Students would be able to vote with their dollar to define what they want. Sharon Goodman, Director of Residential and Dining Services, shares her concern, saying that Evergreen’s Health and Safety policy requires every food vendor or caterer to have liability insurance of $1,000,000. Goodman is also concerned with competition and how that would impact The Flaming Eggplant Café.
The Food Systems Cluster, of Doug Schuler’s Undergraduate Research in Civic Intelligence class, promotes the creation of a culinary program to complete the cycle of sustainable food on campus. Learning how to cook healthy is self-empowering and more sustainable – two values that Evergreen promotes. Mattea Kline, employee of Aramark, believes, “a culinary program could integrate itself with the Greenery, allowing students to cook in a commercial setting.”
A group of students have begun serving food on campus as a Food Not Bombs group. For them, accessibility to food is just as important as the healthiness of the food. Their mission statement says: “Food Not Bombs recovers and shares free vegan or vegetarian food with the public without restriction in over 1,000 cities around the world to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.” Because of food policy guidelines on campus their actions are not acceptable. With the interest of the community in mind Izzi, a Food Not Bombs coordinator, wishes to establish an open community kitchen. A community kitchen would allow students to bring their own food and prepare it on campus. It could serve as a place to host culinary workshops. A concern of Sharon Goodman is the mess. Kitchens have been around campus before, every time the community doesn’t take care of them. Jesse Dwyer a transfer student, who chooses to live out of his vehicle as conscious decision to be more sustainable, realizes:
“I eat [at the Greenery] because I don’t own a kitchen. I can’t afford the Flaming Eggplant [for how much I eat]. The pizza [at Topio’s] is over priced. The nearest grocery store is a twenty-minute bus ride. One thing I pledged my self this year was, I want to eat well and I want to eat healthy. Its not the food I would chose if I went to the grocery store, but it is a balanced meal.”
This next year presents many options. As the bidding process continues this winter we’ll see which options step forward. If you have interest in any of these projects, contact the group or individual to make it happen.