RSOs Host Ethical Dining Teach-In

The teach-in focused on new contract options and ethical concerns.

By Isaac Easton

On Tuesday night, students gathered in Cobb Hall to discuss the University’s upcoming dining contract referendum and the ethical dining practices surrounding it. The four student organizations involved with the teach-in were UChicago Climate Action Network (UCAN), the Fight for Just Food (FfJF), Phoenix Sustainability Initiative (PSI), and University of Chicago Animal Welfare Society (UCAWS).

Aramark is undergoing a periodic review as the University’s sole food provider on campus. As part of this process, the University has invited two new catering firms, Sodexo and Bon Appétit, to submit contract proposals for the upcoming year.

The teach-in was held in two parts. It began with an overview of the competing contracts by Michael Meng and the Campus Dining Advisory Board (CDAB). Although Meng could not reveal any specifics about each company’s contract due to their proprietary nature, he emphasized that regardless of which caterer the University chose, the dining system would undergo massive changes in the upcoming year.

As a result of the forthcoming changes, students have become interested in the possibility of a fully self-operated dining halls. However, to Meng and other CDAB members, becoming self-operational is impractical.

“Self-operation is something that we as a [CDAB] have decided simply can’t happen as quickly as of this next dining cycle. This is because as soon as our current Aramark contract ends, somebody needs to take over operations. It is something that there is definitely space to talk about as we go into the next ten-year contract.”

Meng went on to describe how a change in dining operators would affect third party vendors in places like Hutchinson Commons.

“[Qdoba] has a contract with Aramark, but they are not contracted by Bon Appétit… If Bon Appétit were to come in, then a massive amount of those restaurants would have to change, and same with Sodexo. [In addition] Hutch loses a massive amount of money every year because [students] are not forced to eat there, so there are a lot of proposed changes to that system. For example, one proposal floating around was to create more ‘Bart Marts’ or [contractor operated] grocery store-type solutions, which actually make a lot more money, to offset the costs of the dining hall, so that the dining hall could have better food as a result,” Meng said.

After Meng finished speaking, the represented groups outlined their collective goals in influencing the upcoming decision. First-year and UCAN member Claudia Fernandez explained that because they had similar goals, the student movements realized that they could act together to achieve their desired ends.

Each student group then presented different issues that they would like to see addressed. Representatives of UCAN considered the environmental effects of large-scale and industrial farming and the steps that can be taken by dining contractors to mitigate them. Those of FfJF discussed the fact that Aramark provides food for prisons, and called to have a dining provider who wasn’t involved in what they considered to be the mass incarceration movement going on in the United States. PSI showed how dining contractors could dispose of food waste in an environmentally friendly way that was also in accordance with the health and safety guidelines of Chicago. Lastly, UCAWS reflected on the unethical practices of the meat industry and showed how a dining contractor could do more to respond to these practices. 

Editor’s note: The Maroon originally printed this article with a quote from Michael Meng that has since been removed from the online version.