The relationship between students on campus and our food provider, Aramark, has greatly improved over the past few years. Personal experiences from a few years ago described the difficulty working with Aramark as guarded and unwilling to collaborate with students to create change within the College of Charleston community.
This semester, we have had the privilege of working with Aramark on a project for Dr. Brian Fisher’s applied sustainability class. Our goal going into this was to work with Aramark to explore a more sustainable mindset when its contract is up next year with our campus’ dining services.
We have had a much better experience, being part of the first student groups to work intimately with this company. This included helping Aramark distribute surveys to students all over campus asking about their satisfaction with Dining Services and participating in various focus groups geared toward different groups of students. Of the students surveyed, less than 10 percent of the entire undergraduate student population participated. If more students were readily available or willing to provide feedback to Aramark, it could have received and collected a more useful set of data.
Our project shows that we are making huge strides toward having more student involvement when it comes to food on campus; however, this does not mean we have our foot completely in the door with Aramark. There is still work to do.
Some things that we heard in focus groups were that many students here at the College only want cheap, fast food. This is understandable, being college students on a tight budget. But many want to know where is our “cheap” food coming from?
Over the past year, Aramark compiled data and produced a “food map,” educating the campus on where our food is coming from. Surprisingly, most of our food comes from the southeastern region of our country, which is great in terms of sustainability and lowering our carbon footprint. But Aramark and college students are stuck on the “cheap food” solution. Many students who participated in Aramark’s focus groups have explained that they want healthier food but the prices to eat at dining halls or food courts are way too expensive.
Several college campuses across the United States employ Aramark for its foodservice. Among these campuses is Yale University. Yale’s student population is comparable to our size here at the College. In the past decade, students at Yale pushed Aramark for more sustainable dining, which now includes 40 percent of campus food being organic and coming from more local farms than ever before. Around 2006, Yale’s branch of Aramark purchased its food from 15 to 20 suppliers. Due to the student demand of more local produce, Aramark at Yale now purchases from over 60 suppliers in its area. If Yale can do it, why can’t we?
In addition to Yale joining the food revolution, many other students on campuses across the United States are pushing their schools to purchase more local products and to become more sustainable as well. These are colleges with varying numbers of students on campus (from 2,000 to 50,000 students). All it takes is a group of students to get together, possibly in the form of a panel or board, and work with Aramark to move the College into a more sustainable route.
The city of Charleston has expressed interest in becoming more sustainable. They set a goal to become 100 percent carbon-free by 2050. If the College starts to move in a more sustainable direction, we will be advancing and assisting the entire city’s goal.
*The views in this article represent the opinion of the authors, and not those of CisternYard News.