Before we begin, we would like to make it clear that this article does not refer specifically to Aramark on campus or to the dining hall on campus. Our article is directed toward Aramark as a company on college campuses and in hospitals, businesses, stadiums and prisons throughout the nation. Most college students probably do not know where the food on campus comes from. Maybe you buy fruits and vegetables from the local farmer’s market at home, but there is a lot less clarity as to where the Commons at Drew gets produce, meat, eggs and bread from. As students who depend on the food at Commons, it is our right to have access to information about the source of that food. However, large corporations like Aramark make it difficult for students to attain any information about the source of their food.
That is where the Real Food Challenge (RFC) comes in. In an effort to make food systems more transparent, any college or university that signs the Real Food Campus Commitment commits to investing in at least 20 percent “real food” by 2020. “Real food” must meet the criteria articulated by the Real Food Standards, which takes into account how the food production impacts producers, consumers, communities and the environment. In signing this commitment, schools also pledge to run a yearly Real Food Calculator, which tracks the school’s progress toward 20 percent real food and is used to propose changes in purchasing habits in a attempt to reach that goal. The Real Food Calculator assessment is usually run by a large group of students and faculty and requires a large amount of research to complete.
GRAPHIC COURTESY OF FAIRTRADE AMERICA
Drew signed on to the RFC Campus Commitment almost 10 years ago in 2011. Students in an Environmental Science and Studies Capstone got the support of the University President, and were able to complete a baseline survey of the food on campus, in addition to running the Real Food Calculator. In 2017, RFC contacted DEAL, the environmental club on campus, looking for students to be liaisons between Drew and RFC in the hopes Drew could fulfill its commitment to real food by 2020.
In order to complete the research to find out if the supplier of our food for our campus uses 20 percent real food, we need information such as item prices, and item names, which can all be found on an invoice. In our year-long search for invoices from Aramark, the most we were offered was the ability to take pictures of the boxes their food comes in. As a company that prides themselves on being sustainable, this came as a shock to us. The Aramark representatives on campus have expressed that this decision came from people higher up the food chain. So we are forced to ask, why is Aramark hiding their invoices?
The Campaign for Real Meals was created by the Community Coalition for Real Meals, a grassroots alliance of farmers, ranchers, fishers, food workers, students and environmental advocates that Real Food Challenge is part of. It was created to call out companies like Aramark to change their business models and truly work towards sourcing real food at all of their higher education accounts, as well as provide transparency and accountability. It is unacceptable to us that companies like Aramark are serving food from corporations that exploit workers, harm our environment and produce unhealthy food. Aramark should be an active force for good working conditions, sustainability and racial justice. Instead of siding with big food corporations like Tyson, foodservice companies should support small-scale producers and disenfranchised farmers and fishers. We respectfully request that Aramark reorient their business model away from one that relies on exclusive contracts with large vendors and towards one that supports Real Meals.
Natalie and Brianna are sophomores who work with the Real Food Challenge.