Do you know where your food comes from?

The food that we eat, our food supply is controlled by main food corporations. These corporations do this because we want our food quicker and faster. These companies have factories where they have to make food in large quantities. It is possible that the problem with our food is larger than Aramark
In the Summer of 2011, The administrators at Sweet Briar College (SBC) decided to go with Aramark as a food service provider in the Prothro dining hall. Aramark is a large corporation that provides dining services to a variety of other higher education institutions, in addition to correctional institutions, convention centers, cultural attractions and other international industries. One of a few accolades that Aramark has received includes recognition as one of Fortune magazine’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” when it ranked as one of the top three most admired companies in its industry since 1998. Scott Shank, Vice President for Finance and Administration, said, “Aramark has proven to be a good partner in the past, including being responsive to students’ wants. Aramark also proposed the strongest financial framework that would benefit the College.”
Before Aramark was hired at Sweet Briar, the school did not have a large corporation providing the food. Instead, Sweet Briar had independent chefs who would create a menu and provided multiple staff members who would help cook and prepare the food for the students. According to a staff member who worked in prothro at the time, “Before Aramark came to Sweet Briar; we gave leftover food that was not even touched, to local soup kitchens. That only lasted for a short period of time because it was a huge liability. If someone got sick from the food, the school would be responsible.”
This year Sweet Briar made changes to the strategic plan of the college. According to Scott Shank, “one of the financial action plans within our strategic plan states “Efforts will be launched to forge partnerships with other campuses/organizations to share non-mission-critical resources and services to enhance quality or reduce operating expenses when it is financially advantageous. Such partnerships can take the form of “outsourcing” or of inter-institutional collaboration and resource-sharing.”
When Aramark was brought to Sweet Briar College, “staff who worked with Prothro in years past had the option to stay or to leave,” said Jeanie Campbell , Director of Dining Services. Currently, there is a mixture of pre- and post- Aramark Prothro workers. All staff members, however, new and old were required to be hired by Aramark.
Aramark functioned differently than the students and faculty of Sweet Briar were used to. For instance, students for irritable to arrive in the fall to discover they were to be served their food by workers. Even though this is one of many policies; Aramark enforced not only at Sweet Briar but at many other institutions, including Hampden-Sydney College, and Longwood University; students refused to accept the policy. “I dislike how food is served in Prothro,” claimed Rani Jang ’15.
When prospective students visit Sweet Briar, one of their many concerns is the quality of the food even larger schools like University of Virgina (UVA), Auburn University (AU), and James Madison University(JMU) have many options for a student’s meal plan. Residential students at JMU, for instance have the option of choosing from a total of three separate meal plans; the 14 plus Plan, the Weekly 11 Plus Plan, and the 19-Plus Plan. The students are also capable of deciding how often they would like to eat at the dining hall. (From SBC) Ann Powell ’12 has been to Auburn University multiple times claim that their dining options are a totally different scenario because they outsource 75% of campus food independently. Basically, if we had Chick-fil-a, Au Bon Pain, and Einstein Bagels on campus. So it’s hard to compare since those are National chains.” Many outside groups come and eat at Sweet Briar College’s dining hall, called Prothro. Many groups include Girl Scouts, local families, sports teams and other campus guests. “We used to come here all the time,” expressed a local couple from Amherst, “but that was because there wasn’t much in the town of Amherst.” As the conversation got going, they wanted to know what was so pressing about the food at Sweet Briar. When informed that the school had changed service providers, they had no idea. “The food seems the same to me.” The couple mentioned that the food was good and their daughter thought , “The garden burger is delicious!”
Aramark’s mission statement states; “We enable our clients to realize their core mission, and we will anticipate the needs and exceed the expectations of customers, by dedicating our skills in professional services – hospitality, food, facilities and uniforms – to the goals and priorities of their institution,” claiming that they are a company dedicated to provide a service that will “exceed expectations”. Aramark has listened to the students suggestions and has made changes where they could. The workers at Prothro no longer serve to the students but let the students serve themselves. Dining Services have also incorporated celebratory meals, for birthdays and seniors, with an elaborate fruit and cheese tray and music playing in the Prothro atrium (each holiday they tried to celebrate with an activity). For Halloween, they had a pumpkin carving contest; for Christmas, there was a ginger bread house contest; find the baby in the cake for, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter themed food, and every 12th of the month Dean Steele had requested to honor the seniors with a desert in their class colors.
Jeanie Campbell created Dining with the Director, which was a program providing students with the opportunities to discuss the food service. One during the fall semester, the Student Government Association (SGA) presented a discussion about the current food service which took place in the Conference Center. Campbell hopes to also provide a program for which Dining Services would work with Job Corps. According to Job Corps website, “Job Corps is a free education and training program that helps young people learn a career, earn a high school diploma or GED and find and keep a good job.” Sweet Briar College and is trying to find ways to reach out to the surrounding community. The Job Corps would bring in 3-4 students at a time to work in the dining services for a 9 week program.
There has been a mix response from the students about the service Aramark provides. “I think they’ve been doing an okay job so far…They hired a nutritionist to talk to all the athletes and that’s never happened before,” commented Sierra Palmeri ‘12.
Emily Sicklebaugh ’13 said, “I usually have salad everyday for lunch and dinner but part of that is my choice. But when they do have something good, it is really good!”
Lotoya Letmon ’14 provided a different perspective, “I do not like the food. I have actually not been eating in Prothro or the Bistro this year and had to buy my own food. The reason being is because the food is not only not appetizing but also very unhealthy.”
Rachel Laskey ’12 said, “The chef told a fellow student that he serves students food that he knows that they will eat more of. So he ends up serving more fried food, which is the food we mostly complain about.”
Krista Maldonado ’12 said, “The food is terrible, and the way they provide food doesn’t give students enough of an option.”
John Harding, Executive-Chef, has been cooking for 20 years in hotels and resorts. Harding has a lot of experience in the kitchen and he tries to change the menu to what the students like. “If you have any concerns or problems, come see me.” Harding also mentioned that that they are in the process of getting local produce. The company, Conner’s Produce, is being thoroughly inspected. “We can’t get food from a mom and pop place because those little businesses do not have the stamp of approval by Aramark,” Harding mentioned.
Clifford Ambers, owner of the Chateau Z winery, is familiar with the Sweet Briar area because his wife, Dr. Rebecca Ambers, works at the College as Associate Professor of Environmental Science. Ambers said that Sweet Briar Dining used to work with Wholesale Food Company to buy food in bulk. According to the Spredfast Blog, “Whole Foods has incredibly high corporate brand awareness and history of locally focused marketing.” “Aramark is challenged to build and engage an ever-overturning collegiate customer base with no corporate brand social “halo” to provide cover.” Wholesale Foods and Aramark both package and distribute large quantities of food that is shipped from all around the country.
There are many different farms in this area. Some of them include Hungry Hill Farm, Island Farm, J&R Produce, Three Spring Farm, Goldman Farm and Auburnea Farm. All of these farms are local and come to the farmers market every Saturday in Lynchburg. Auburnea Farm is a recently new farm that sells quality, all natural pastured beef, poultry and eggs. The owner of Auburnea Farm never worked with a school before but is currently at maximum capacity. She sells meat to restaurants in D.C., goes to festivals and markets. She wants to expand but currently does not have the resources to do so.
The market manager, Jennifer Kennedy, is a part of the food council in Lynchburg. Kennedy looked into getting some of the local farmers to do business with the schools in the area. “I have to go through the school board and it is a long process” said Kennedy. Sweet Briar College also has a complicated process. “The process of choosing a food service provider is lengthy and involved. It begins with issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP), in which the College communicates to multiple vendors their desire to have them provide certain services and the vendors respond with programmatic and financial proposals. Then the College must evaluate these proposals and the people that you would be working with to determine which company would be the best fit for your community” Commented Shank.
“Farmers need to commit and concede” stated Kennedy. They will have to grow a large amount of tomatoes and cut the price so it is affordable for schools to buy and they have to compete with large food distributors like Aramark, because the company is made to distribute large quantities of food. The Market Manager said, “even though the locally grown food is a lot better for everyone, they are unable to produce enough.” Schools need food all year round. Clifford Ambers said, “When the farmers are hitting their peak season in the summer, all the students have left to go home and when students come back to school is when the farmers are finishing up their season”.
Aramark gets locally grown apples from Morris Orchard. Everything else, however, is shipped from Roanoke. According to Jeanie Campbell, “Aramark has to certify the place where the food comes from.” In order for companies, like Aramark to use a local company, like Auburnea Farm, that company would have to be certified before Aramark could serve it to its customers. Instead, Aramark gets food from Sysco, one of the largest food distributors, and Tyson, a meat producer. Many places in America, including fast food restaurants, have made getting food easier and quicker. Local farmers are having a hard time keeping up with the demand because they grow their food the natural way, by not adding any growth hormones. According to Food Inc., Companies like Tyson, have used hormones to make their animals grow in half the time.
Food that farmers grow, vegetables, spinach, strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, onions, corn, etc., is not processed and has no growth hormones to make them grow larger then their natural size. Getting food straight from the land is different from food that has been frozen because it is fresh, with very little if any chemicals. Many of the students complain about the food but they do not realize the time and effort that goes into making food. Aramark is the new service provider but their quality of food is the same as it was before, it is just run by a different company. The true problem goes deeper; past Aramark, Wholesale Foods, and Sysco; straight to the Farmers, all the way up to the FDA. Even though there are over 10 farms in the Lynchburg area, the reason why the school does not use any of them is not only because of the certifications of businesses but the farmers are not able to produce in the quantity that schools demand.

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