U students push for food sustainability

The University’s food contractor is pushing back against the group’s efforts.

Cody Nelson

A University of Minnesota student group’s efforts to monitor campus food sustainability are meeting resistance from a national food service provider.

Student group U Students Like Good Food is attempting to implement the Real Food Challenge’s calculator, a program that would monitor University Dining Services for food sustainability.

But Aramark, the University’s contracted food and beverage provider, said it will not work with RFC at either the University or national level.

Multiple sources alleged that Aramark issued a directive to their employees telling them not to work with students in regard to the Real Food Challenge. Aramark did not return multiple requests for comment.

The RFC, a Boston-based national organization, has had success implementing the calculator at various colleges and universities across the country. RFC Midwest coordinator Katie Blanchard said Aramark is the only company that has “slammed the door on students.”

“The other companies have been far more receptive than Aramark,” she said. “Aramark is the only company that has outright said ‘We will not work with students on this.’”

The University currently measures its sustainability through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s STARS program, said UDS director and Aramark employee Karen Devet. She denied there was a directive by the company disallowing UDS from working with the RFC.

“I did not see a memo that told me not to work with Real Food Challenge,” Devet said.

Laura Dorle, president of the University student group, first began working with UDS last February by attending its advisory meetings. The group hit a roadblock when it tried to get the University to adopt the RFC’s calculator program.

Dorle said UDS gave vague reasons as to why it would not implement the calculator and said officials “seemed hesitant” when the Aramark issue arose.

The calculator is how the RFC monitors its goal of making at least 20 percent of food at participating colleges and universities adhere to the organization’s “real food” guidelines, said RFC Midwest field organizer Siri Simons.

These guidelines are that food must be community-based, sustainable, fair and humane, Simons said.

“These are students who are really working toward things that are really in line with the values of their institutions … and of things that Aramark itself says that it cares about,” Blanchard said.

When pushing for sustainability, “students at other schools are experiencing this constant pushback from universities,” Dorle said.

The RFC held a “Day of Action” last spring when volunteers made phone calls and emailed  Aramark in an attempt to work with the company. It currently has a “Get Real, Aramark!” campaign.

Blanchard said Aramark’s response has been insufficient.

“While Aramark is meeting with students … they’re not really moving forward on things in the same way as is happening at other campuses,” Blanchard said, adding that food companies like Bon Appétit and Sodexo have been more cooperative.

She said the reasoning behind the national directive, which prohibits Aramark employees from working with the RFC, is unclear to the organization.

“While many of the other schools were having very amicable relationships,” Blanchard said, “[the directive] was an unfortunate response that came out of nowhere.”

Devet said the University already uses a variety of sustainability efforts through the AASHE system, like recycling, composting organic waste and energy conservation.

“Our UDS sustainability platform is much broader than local foods,” Devet said, adding that UDS would continue to use the system.

The University is currently under contract with Aramark through 2020.