EDITORIAL: Evaluating options for the future of campus dining
Brandeis University hosted a series of four Request for Proposal forums between Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5 in search of a new dining vendor. The University invited Sodexo, Harvest Table, Chartwells and Bon Appetit to present at these forums.
Why we like Harvest Table
Of all of the vendors that presented, this board would like to endorse Harvest Table, an independent division of Aramark that uses different sourcing, as our next food vendor. This food vendor seems to have many ideas for the future of Brandeis Dining, such as rebranding and relocating Louis’ Deli to the Usdan gameroom for more space and a classier appearance. Another idea was to replace Currito with TomaTillos, a more authentic Mexican experience. In addition to these upgrades, Harvest Table plans to incorporate more plant proteins such as spinach, kale, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds and much more. They also plan to make food and beverages available 24/7 in Lower Usdan with a more “robust” offering day and night.
Harvest Table claimed in their presentation materials to report allergen information for “the top eight allergens [which] are milk, egg, soy, wheat, shellfish, fin fish, peanut[s] and tree nut[s],” a good step given the necessity of accurate allergen information. Additionally, this company plans to source their food from local farms and markets such as 4 Town Farms in Seekonk, MA, Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, NH and Steere Orchards in Greenville, RI. This is a positive step if the Brandeis community desires to eventually have its own dining service, as locally obtaining food locally will make a future transition, supported by the student group Brandeis Uproot and Rising, easier. The company also only purchases meat from third-party certified sources to ensure animal welfare.
Although Harvest Table is our top choice, we still have reservations regarding their affiliation with Aramark. Aramark has a history of client complaints about food quality and sustainability. Harvest Table is an independent division of Aramark and gets their food from different sources. This board is uncomfortable with financially supporting a company with the issues that Aramark has, but of the four vendors presented, we see Harvest Table as the best option, especially because of its independence from its parent company.
Why this board is not endorsing the other three vendors
For all their posturing as willing to change and improve, Sodexo has done nothing to convince this board that they will be able to truly fix their issues if their contract is renewed. We cannot endorse renewing a contract with a vendor that is not demonstrating a clear plan to deal with its most critical problems, including health concerns and dangerous mishandling of student allergies. In addition, while other vendor proposals are claiming to offer significant changes, Sodexo’s main message seems to be that they will give us more of the same by building on current “momentum,” with only surface level changes. If the University wants a change, we should get a real change.
This board also believes that two of the other proposed finalists, Chartwells and Bon Appetit, would not sufficiently address the needs and concerns of the University as the new vendor. While both plans include details on changes to the current dining situation, for the most part they seem discouragingly similar to what we already have with Sodexo. Their shared parent company Compass Group — as well as both of these independent branches individually — all have a history of bad press and complaints around health concerns and poor treatment of workers. Their talk of sustainability and technology initiatives may sound compelling without the context of the personal bad experience the Brandeis community has had with our current vendor, but beyond that, this board does not believe either will give the University dining the changes we need.
Independent dining at Brandeis
This board agrees with the student group Uprooted and Rising, which argues in-house dining would give Brandeis the best opportunity to ensure sustainable dining services, just treatment to dining employees and lower costs, among other benefits. However, we are unsure of the practicality of making the transition by the upcoming summer, as the new contract must start July 1. This board encourages the school to evaluate the potential for transitioning to in-house dining and to communicate with other colleges who have their own in-house dining programs and foundations who have supported similar transitions in the past. The board also recommends that the school negotiate a flexible contract with the upcoming company so a transition to in-house dining could be made in the future.
Ultimately, though this board endorses Harvest Table as our next food vendor, we would like to emphasize certain changes that any future vendor should offer. First, meal plans should be affordable to all students. Additionally, students should have more meal plan options, as well as the ability to opt-out of purchasing a meal plans for students who live in dorms with kitchens. A large number of students in housing with kitchens are forced to purchase a meal plan that they often do not fully use. Additionally, a points-only meal plan would be helpful for students who want the option to eat on campus without carrying around cash or a credit card, while also not having swipes they will never finish.
—Editor's Note: Editor Jen Geller covered these forums for News and did not contribute to this Editorial.