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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students organize coalition for Aramark dining reform

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: News

On the eve of Dining Service provider Aramark’s contract ex-piration, a group of students have formed the Brandeis Coalition for Food Service Reform in the hopes of instituting new stipulations in Aramark’s new contract, accord-ing to Coalition Steering Commit-tee Chair Danielle Hollenbeck-Pringle ’10.

Through the coalition, “we hope to reform [dining] services so that students have more options and are able to be more conscious consumers, so [we’re addressing] everything from the work-related practices, to the food availability, to the type of food we’re getting,” Hollenbeck-Pringle explained.

The coalition’s demands run a broad range and address the following areas: food sustainability, financial transparency, food options, campus dining workers, workplace conditions and safety and environmental sustainability.

Based on the number of students in attendance at the coalition’s first general meeting, students seem to be responding positively to the initiative, Hollenbeck-Pringle said. “I think generally, many people have
issues with dining services, and so it’s really a cause that everyone can rally behind.”

Coalition member Rachel Sier ’11 agreed, describing the quality of food Aramark provides students as “subpar.” She said, “I think there’s a general consensus on campus that people are not happy with the food. People complain about it all the time and there’s absolutely no reason that we as students shouldn’t demand a better quality of food, and food that falls in line with the university’s principle [of social justice].”

Sier said the university has a duty to be transparent and as such, a duty to involve students in decisions that direct their quality of life..

Hollenbeck-Pringle said the coalition’s list of grievances will provide guidance for students potentially named to a contract review panel.

Hollenbeck-Pringle explained that the coalition differs from the already established Student Union Dining Committee since the coalition has the onetime goal of changing Aramark’s contract, whereas the Dining Committee
works continuously.

To this end, Coalition Health, Availability, and Dietary Restrictions Coordinator Liza Behrendt ’11 said, “apart from our specific demands, we want to try to change the culture of Aramark on this campus from sustainable initiatives being exceptions to being rules, the norm.”

As such, the coalition is working towards providing more sustainable foods in addition to a greater assortment of vegan and vegetarian, and Kosher and Halal foods. They are also seeking dollar point equivalency and meal plans that give students more options and more value.

There was much talk amongst students about these complaints last spring, Behrendt explained. Rather than replacing Aramark with another food provider, many students thought it might be better to work with them to fix certain issues and institutionalize changes.

Associate Dean of Student Life Maggie Balch said that Aramark is always receptive to student concerns. “They’re always interested in hearing what students have to say and trying to improve their services,” she said. “Sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t, but they’re always interested.”

Regarding labor concerns, Steering Committee member Nathan Ross ’11 said the coalition hopes to ensure that Aramark employees have more control over their working hours and can work in a safe, accepting environment which uses more environmentally and human friendly cleaning solvents.

The coalition views student involvement as integral to enacting changes to Dining Services, Ross said.

“Brandeis has an unprecedented opportunity to change its food services, and students need to make sure that when it does, it does so in a way which serves our needs because we are the ones with the vested interest, we are the stake-holders and we recognize that there are some changes that need
to happen.”