Brandeis undergraduate students pay, on average, $7,070 on meal plans per year, according to the Office of Student Financial Services. Since 2013, students have paid this price for Sodexo as stated by the Food Service Director website. Sodexo’s contract was meant to end in 2020; however, due to the pandemic, they received a two year extension, which is set to end in June 2022, the Office of the Executive Vice President, Finance, and Administration said.

Earlier in the academic year, the University issued a Request for Proposals to multiple vendors, according to the Office of the Executive Vice President, Finance, and Administration. These vendors include AVI, Bon Appetit, Harvest Table, Nexdine, and Sodexo. Between Monday, Feb. 28 and Wednesday, March 2, these bidders presented their proposed plans. They also took questions from people in the audience, as well as those watching online. 

The vendors who presented were chosen by “the Dining RFP Steering Committee, a group of faculty, students, and staff tasked with selecting the food service operator whose contract will begin in July 2022,” Lois Stanley, Vice President for Campus Operations and the chair of the committee, wrote in a March 5 email to the Justice. Stanley continued that “we worked with the consultant Innovative Hospitality Solutions to identify potential operators. The committee screened about ten of those firms in the fall and selected five to be invited to participate in the RFP process.” Additionally, there were two students on the steering committee, Stanley wrote. Student involvement was a dominant theme of this decision making process: “The consultants met with student groups in the fall. Students attended the community presentations this past week [and] [w]e received close to 300 comments through the feedback portal, mostly from students,” Stanley wrote. 

Students had the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns at the presentations or via a feedback form. Some concerns included topics of sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility for those who keep kosher or have other dietary restrictions, and keeping the current Brandeis dining workers union contract. 

Brandeis Sustainability Ambassadors advertised the presentations to the community, attended the presentations to learn about their sustainability goals and practices, and voiced questions about these goals and practices, according to BSA Forrest Shimazu ’23 in a March 5 email to the Justice. Specifically, “the practices we looked for in the vendors included their management of food waste, how much of their food is locally and sustainably sourced, the agricultural practices they use, and how much meat they serve,” Shimazu wrote. “We also look for how they continue to plan on improving these practices in the future.” Shimazu was personally interested in the amount of meat each vendor serves, and if they had plans to reduce this amount. In the end, only one company met the sustainability expectations of BSA in putting sustainability as the top priority and “that was Harvest Table,” Shimazu wrote. “They source 65% of their food locally, which exceeded our current goals and [was] far greater than the other vendors.” 

According to  an attendee, Eitan Marks ’24, “people were concerned a lot about kosher food and a lot about making sure that the dining workers who currently work at Brandeis don’t lose their jobs,” he wrote in a March 4 email to the Justice. “Those were really the two main points for me.” Marks has previously been involved in advocating for better kosher food on campus and has had conversations with director of University Services, Jeffrey Hershberger, as well as Sodexo manager Mike Reilly among other Sodexo staff members, he explained. 

Marks is concerned with “making sure that kosher food and dining is not an afterthought, rather it is a core essential part of the vendor’s plan for what they want to do.” Additionally, when listening to the presentations, Marks was thinking about the dining workers; “A lot of these workers have worked at Brandeis for 20, 30, 40 years,” he said. Marks continued that “I want to make sure that we’re picking a company that is committed to keeping them on, and if not hiring them with their current wages, even better wages.”

Like Shimazu, Marks’ top dining vendor choice was Harvest Table. Marks expressed excitement over their locally sourced food, specifically relating to sourcing Kosher food. Furthermore, Marks explained that the locally sourced food would also be beneficial in avoiding issues with the national supply chain. “My biggest takeaway was that I just loved Harvest Table,” he wrote. “They have a great business model and really great people.” The proposed management team, whom he spoke with, “seem to be very open to talking and working with students and clearly have a passion for what they do,” Marks added. 

A vendor will be offered a bid by the end of March with the new contract beginning this July, according to the Office of the Executive Vice President, Finance, and Administration.