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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Missing the araMARK

Last week the Association of Student Representatives, Trinity's student government (which I advise), passed a resolution calling for ARAMARK and the University to divulge the contract that binds the two entities. At today's "speak-out" for candidates for next year's ASR senate, several candidates again expressed this call for transparency.

I am proud that ASR is making noise about food service. They have moved from complaining to demanding. I appreciate that. I do hope the contract-angst doesn't derail the students from some important issues though. Those issues include understanding all of the dynamics at play in the student-ARAMARK-Trinity triangle.

The issues of quality and cost are inter-connected. Trinity's food service is at the highest level in terms of variety and quality. Rather than a few options at meals, students have many. When our students visit other campuses they often report back firsthand that our food compares really favorably. ARAMARK can lower the prices, but the quality will change.

Students do have power to affect change in the area of dining service, but don't exercise it in any coordinated way, except for this related resolution. ASR and ARAMARK regularly schedules open dining committee meetings (sometimes with lunch provided) for those within and outside of ASR. Usually there are two or three students who show up. So maybe the forum isn't right. Then ASR invite dining management to an ASR meeting. Most of the communication now, though, is around the edges and around the little things, such as, whether or not the meat spatula touched the veggie burger.

Though ARAMARK is a multi-national corporation, on the very local campus level, real people named Miguel, Mario, and Susan, work energetically to produce high quality products. They will listen to specific complaints, issues, and suggestions. There is little incentive to be adversarial with the student customers.

ARAMARK is a business and sells what students want. Two years ago I urged them to offer only whole wheat products in place of processed, refined, enriched carbs. While they have added the whole wheat options, they won't discontinue selling the other products because of high demand. They have offered healthy products, but M&Ms outsell vegetables for some odd reason.

Finally, there are so many opportunities to shape the way food service looks (and tastes) at Trinity. The contract isn't going to change a lot and getting to see it will distract from other substantive changes that can be made. I have a vision for our food service that has more locally grown food, more organic products, more fresh options, better fruit, less processed food, more Odwalla, only water from the tap with the bottles ASR already provides, better options for international students, more options for vegetarians, less soda, and a Central Market-like atmosphere in the Commons.

What is the student vision for food service here? Tell someone who counts. Tell ARAMARK. Press them. Then - the contract won't matter.

1 comment:

Elena said...

I for one have never heard about the open meetings. I would love to attend one or two, but I don't know where or when they are.