Today marks the final day of Vassar Sustainability’s National Food Week celebration on campus.
The three-day event, which culminates tonight with Local Foods Night at the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC), part of a larger national discussion on the topic of sustainable food systems. According to its advertising, Vassar Sustainability, working in tandem with various on- and off-campus organizations, hopes that the events of the last week will motivate students to become more involved in taking action for food practices that are both socially and environmentally just.
Although this celebration of food and sustainability is limited to a week, we at The Miscellany News believe students have demonstrated over time that local food and sustainability are priorities that should be considered year-round.
Campus dining is an important and necessary component of student life at Vassar; the Student Life Committee works methods improve the campus dining experience for Vassar students, definitively showing a correlation between student life and food. Organizations like Slow Food make it their mission to think about students’ relationship with food and connect them to a local food supply.
Moreover, students have expressed interest in eating more locally produced foods by participating in sponsored shares like The Poughkeepsie Farm Projects’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). While the efforts of committees and organizations demonstrate a desire for more local foods in the Campus Dining options, this is not reflected in the way we currently get our food or the small amount of locally sourced foods served on campus.
At the moment only 24 percent of the food served through Aramark’s dining services comes from locally sourced foods.
We at The Miscellany News encourage the College to look to neighboring institutions for ideas on how to increase the presence of local foods on campus. In 2010, the State University of New York at New Paltz successfully raised the percentage of their local stock to 75 percent when they started working with Red Barn Produce, a local food distributor in Highland, N.Y., according to The Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities. Through this relationship with a local distributor, New Paltz has been able to cut down on the amount of food waste, because Red Barn is able to fill orders quickly. As a result, their dining hall only orders what it needs. Of course, Red Barn Produce is just one local distributor in the area.
If the College were to pursue a similar path, Campus Dining could see a more substantive increase of sustainability in reducing transportation emissions and supporting the local economy. Further, by forging a working partnership with a local distributor, we open up our campus dining options year round instead of having a wider variety of locally-sourced foods on limited nights at the dining all.
We at The Miscellany News believe this discussion on the importance of sustainability also pertains to the larger issue of campus dining and a general frustration from the student body with our current food service provider, Aramark. With our current system, in order for more local foods to be incorporated on a regular basis, the total amount of the food item Campus Dining uses in a year must be calculated to see if a local distributor could sell us that amount.
But, in addition to limited options at the ACDC, the quality of food and the cost of buying a meal plan on campus, Aramark has proven to be questionable on a larger scale. The food service provider has recently been entangled in a string of charges for poor service in Michigan prisons.
According to an article in Detroit’s Free Press, “[Aramark was reported to have] repeated problems with meal shortages, lack of cleanliness including maggots in and around food, and Aramark workers smuggling contraband, engaging in sex acts with inmates or otherwise getting too friendly with them, creating security issues.” (Free Press, “Michigan fines Aramark $200,000 more for prison food,” 8.8.14)
More recently, at the end of October, “A third Aramark prison food worker has been fired on suspicion of smuggling drugs into a Michigan prison,” proving this is an ongoing issue. (Free Press, “Third Aramark prison food worker suspected of drug smuggling,” 10.23.14)
Given Aramark’s track record, we at The Miscellany News, despite the college’s current contract with the company, feel it would not be in Vassar’s best interest to continue using a large, corrupt corporation as our food service providers.
Incorporating more locally produced foods into the Campus Dining experiences of Vassar students is not merely an issue of increasing food options. It’s about a need for a more sustainable College community. However, we at The Miscellany News note that Vassar College does not exist within a vacuum; by figuring out how to bring more locally-sourced food to the campus, the College will be taking action to create a more sustainable food system in the larger Hudson Valley Area, one that benefits local farmers and the economy.
But in order for the College to effectively increase the locally sourced foods on campus, we at The Miscellany News believe that ties must ultimately be broken with our current food service provide, Aramark. The company has questionable morals that do not align with the mission of the College and has proven in the past that the student needs and wants, particularly with regards to sustainability, are not one of its priorities.
Until we find a new food service provider or make the switch to handling Campus Dining in-house, sustainability and ethical eating will continue to be an issue on this campus.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.