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Real food initiatives stalled by Aramark policy

A student group hopes to prepare data and ideas about on-campus dining facilities and serve it to the Office of the Provost in hopes of making USFs food supply 20 percent real by 2020.

Real food, according to the Real Food Challenge, is defined as food that is shipped from within 350-mile radius, fair in the treatment of farmers and workers who harvest them, humane and non-genetically modified or ecologically sound.

Joseph Michalsky, a junior majoring in civil engineering and logistics coordinator of the Real Food Challenge at USF, is among the students at USF who are lobbying Aramark to carry healthier dining options.

I think real food is better for the human, better for the environment and better for the community, he said.

In February, the group posed the question on the Student Government ballot: Would you support a signed commitment that at least 20 percent of the food purchased by the University of South Floridas campus dining services provider will be real food by the year 2020?

Ninety-three percent of people said yes and 94 percent of people said they would support greater student voice in the healthiness and sustainability of the food purchased by the University of South Floridas campus dining services provider.

Yet a nationwide Aramark policy that does not allow purchasing information to be released to universities or students is holding the group back from making the next step. On Tuesday, Michalsky and others gathered to send emails with others across the country to ask for a more transparent policy.

We dont even know how much Aramark pays for food right now, he said. We dont know how much the cost compares. Local farmers might be more expensive or cheaper, depending on the data received from Aramark. The big thing is just getting some sort of system in place opening up this necessary transparency so that students do have a voice.

Jenna Burns, marketing manager for Aramark at USF, said in an email to The Oracle that the University tracks purchasing information through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Educations (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a system that measures universities sustainability efforts.

According to the STARS website, USF received 1.8 out six points for sustainability in Food Purchasing. The system notes that TG Lee Dairy milk is produced in Florida, Flowers Baking Company supplies the University with fresh bread made in state, FreshPoint supplies Aramark with fresh produce and Java City offers fair-trade coffee.

USFs Sustain-A-Bull website also said USF uses responsible procurement for its grab n go purchases, but Michalsky said this is far from a breakdown of Aramarks purchasing information.

The public information weve been directed to by Dining Services does not suffice, he said. Its not an annual expense breakdown. We need an actual, real, concrete breakdown of how much they spend and where. The AASHE (STARS) report doesnt contain dining service information relevant to the Real Food Challenge. Michalsky said that in a meeting with Dining Services, members were told they had to go through Aramark Corporate Media Relations for the information they were requesting.

Yet Tuliagenda Beckford, a sophomore majoring in civil environmental engineering, said they were later told Aramarks corporate offices wont work with any Real Food Challenge student groups.

Essentially, Aramarks corporate office issued a memo to all of its higher education employees, stating that they should not work with any students involved in the Real Food Challenge on the fabricated claims that the Real Food Challenge is sponsored by a labor union, she said. The Real Food Challenge is actually sponsored by The Food Project, a highly acclaimed nonprofit organization.

Burns said (Aramark is) also currently in active discussions directly with the Real Food Challenge on a national level and is open to student feedback. Aramark met with the group in November.

The Real Food Challenge at USF hopes to meet with the Office of the provost about the situation and ask why a policy allowing Aramark to release the purchasing information is needed for the group to move forward.

(Aramark) has known full well what information is being requested, he said. Theyve known that for at least five months. But, as it seems, neither USF Dining Services nor Aramark Corporate will provide this information. At least not yet.

The group hopes to collect the final information into a portfolio to present to the provost that will contain input about the feasibility of this challenge from staff in four different departments: the Office of Sustainability, Dining Services, Auxiliary Services and Wellness.

Weve pretty much consulted all the people we can, Michalsky said. The next step is to go to the people at the top of the rank and say: This is the research weve done, this is what we have, this is what we think would be a good idea.