Is it easy enough to find food on campus that’s affordable, healthy and locally sourced? Even though Aramark—the food service giant that has been the official chef for Portland State for more than 20 years—has tried to aim closer to that target, many who spend their money on campus are still complaining.
Is it easy enough to find food on campus that’s affordable, healthy and locally sourced?
Even though Aramark—the food service giant that has been the official chef for Portland State for more than 20 years—has tried to aim closer to that target, many who spend their money on campus are still complaining.
Objections from students range from poor food quality to Aramark’s corporate identity.
Some question whether it is right for the university to contract its food services out to a multinational, for-profit corporation headquartered on the East Coast.
“I think it’s just terrible that it’s all these corporations and not the students [operating food services at PSU],” said Jarad Al-Hadi, a senior studying international development. “And the quality of the food is not that great.”
Another criticism is that Portland State’s mission to “contribute to the economic vitality, environmental sustainability and quality of life in the Portland region and beyond” conflicts with its food services contract with Aramark.
Sonya Friedman, a sophomore majoring in anthropology, feels that the relationship with Aramark is revealing.
“Smith [Memorial Student] Union represents the administration’s attitude [toward] financial priorities. Aramark is the focal point of Smith and Food For Thought [the student-run restaurant] is tucked away in the basement. The administration cares most about profits, not students’ health or autonomy.”
When asked about the pros and cons of outsourcing food services, Kristine Wise, the university’s manager of Auxiliary Retail Services, said it can be a success.
“The University of Oregon has an in-house food service program, and my experience is that it works very well and is profitable for the university,” Wise said.
The contract with Aramark requires that a total of 30 percent of all food purchased be locally sourced (a designation that includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California) and that this percentage must increase by 2 percent each year. Thirty percent of fruits and vegetables, 50 percent of beef and flour and 100 percent of dairy products must be procured locally, but it’s often been unclear if these quotas are being met. Erratic submission of required quarterly reports and protests from Aramark that some of the requirements are unreasonable have clouded the issue.
In fall of 2012, PSU sociology major Danielle Grondin assumed the newly created position of food systems coordinator within the Sustainability Leadership Center. She has been working closely with Aramark to increase the amount of locally produced and organic food purchased for campus food services. In addition, she is overseeing efforts to reduce packaging and waste, including the introduction of reusable takeout containers and a composting program for the residence halls.
In an effort to do its part, Aramark hired Daniele Minniti, a recent graduate of PSU’s environmental studies program, to track local and organic purchases as the company’s first-ever sustainability intern.
Tim Kellen, the food service director for Aramark, met with Student Activities and Leadership Programs earlier this month to receive their input on Aramark’s catering program. Among the suggestions made were requests for more locally sourced, organic and free-range menu offerings. The weekly farmers market held on campus was mentioned as a possible source.
“There are three things there,” Kellen said. “I can’t purchase from the farmers market because they don’t have a vendor’s license to sell to wholesalers. [With] free-range meats, that gets into the price issue. It’s not going to meet the…price point of $8 a head. We have a sustainable menu with free-range meats, and if people want to pay extra for that it’s available.”
Local and organic vegetables and fruits would likewise drive up costs, Kellen said. He defended Aramark’s catering program, saying, “We make 10 percent over cost. We barely make a profit on it. It’s about helping students provide food for their events.”
Student groups using Smith for catered events must use Aramark’s catering program, according to the university’s contract with the company. And student groups holding a catered event anywhere on campus are required to use Aramark if they want to be able to bill the cost to the university rather than pay out of pocket. There is also a requirement that all freshmen living on campus purchase a meal plan through Aramark. These stipulations have led to criticisms that student choice is being compromised in the name of corporate profit.
Wise says the university tries to balance financial considerations, sustainability goals and student needs in its food service program.
“There’s always that fine line you have to walk in this industry, or any kind of service industry. What do people want, what will they consume? It’s always a push and pull between cost and other goals. In the end, it’s consumer-driven.”