From the glistening trays of sashimi in Benji’s to the bygone days of the Preserve’s grilled cheese, there is undoubtedly an abundance of delicious food on campus. Bon Appétit, CC’s dining service, has a reputation for being responsive and providing a wide array of healthy, sustainably sourced fare. However, the company’s contract is up for renewal in July of this year and many insist that the CC community take a closer look at the dining service and the implications of contracting an outside company.
Students I spoke with expressed a wide array of concerns and interests regarding Bon Appétit. Paramount to many students is the lack of flexibility afforded by the A, B, C, and apartment meal plans. Others focused on the high cost of food and the mandate to purchase a meal plan if you live on campus. Furthermore, there are already students on campus organizing to promote more sustainable sourcing practices and improving the school’s relationship with local farmers.
A vast majority of students, however, don’t even know Bon Appétit’s contract is up for renewal. Several months remain before any decisions are made. However, as of now, the college does not intend to go through a request for proposal project (RFP), which would invite other vendors to apply.
Robert Moore, who oversees the contract for Bon Appétit, stated that the college has been “pretty satisfied with the service we’re getting.” Additionally, he doesn’t see “much competition in the fresh food, locally sourced, sustainable food model that Bon Appétit gives us.” Even if the college does not pursue an RFP, Moore made it clear that he is open to changing aspects of the contract.
Senior Rebecca Glazer is an intern at the Office of Sustainability, focusing on local food and community engagement. Additionally, she runs the CC Food Coalition, which is made up of students and primarily serves as a discussion group about food justice issues. To Glazer, it is important to look at how CC can be a more beneficial influence in the Colorado Springs community through its food purchasing.
Glazer and other students are working to create a better connection with the Springs community by putting pressure on Bon Appétit to focus on locally sourcing our food. Their efforts are ongoing as they sift through two months of Bon Appétit’s invoices and investigate whether the food they’re purchasing is considered “real,” which encompasses a broad range of categories including locally sourced, ecologically produced with fair labor, and humane.
The results of their audit—which is open to anyone who is interested in participating—is to get a better picture of what Bon Appétit’s purchasing actually looks like. Connecting to the contract, Glazer holds that “It’s really important to get language that specifies how much local or real food that we want Bon Appétit to have to purchase, but also making that language realistic and achievable for them.”
Other students are more focused on having a dining service that does not place financial burden on students. Currently, all students living on campus are required to purchase a meal plan each semester. This includes juniors and seniors living in apartments, who must purchase an apartment meal plan totaling 380 dollars. The students I spoke with were dissatisfied with this policy, arguing that it is not only financially onerous, but also strips students of their agency to make their own decisions regarding food.
There is no formal statement on CC’s website explaining the mandate for those on campus to purchase a meal plan. John Lauer, the Vice President for Student Life, as well as Robert Moore both emphasized that the policy is two-fold.
First, it’s imperative for Bon Appétit to have assurance of what’s called, a minimum demand level. The company needs to know what the pool of money is that they’re working with in order for their business model to work.
However, Lauer said the apartment price point was designed to be reasonable and it does not have an overhead charge the way freshmen and sophomore plans do. Furthermore, it is important to the college that students have a constant source of food and don’t have to always worry about cooking. John Lauer highlighted the college’s belief that “eating together and dining together” is a primary element of building community.
On the other side, there are people who feel passionate about options and the agency to cook their own food. According to Monica Black, a junior at CC, “the only reason [that policy] is in place is because Bon Appétit needs to turn a profit and so…in order to make their numbers crunch, they have to get a certain number of people on the meal plan. It’s kind of like a healthcare buy in.” Black argues that “if we were an in-house service, there would be no reason to do that.”
Echoing a desire for increased options for juniors and seniors, Nora Watkins stated “if the school is actually concerned about building community, they would be willing to negotiate…because right now the only way I see them doing that is forcing people to stay on campus for longer than they can afford.” Furthermore, there is an abundance of kitchens on campus and a majority of them are under-utilized because people feel compelled to spend their meal plan money, rather than purchasing groceries.
Some students argue that terminating the contract with Bon Appétit and transitioning towards an in-house model would eradicate this issue. If we didn’t contract with an outside company, they argue, we could create an opt-in, opt-out model that is not predicated on turning a profit. However, even if we renewed our contract with Bon Appétit, Monica Black insisted the on-campus mandated meal plan be looked at because “it’s inequitable and does not contribute to a healthy community which is what it should be doing.”
The current thinking suggests that freshmen and sophomores would continue to purchase meal plans. However, when asked if the apartment plan could be restructured, Moore stated, “we could explore that.”
Focusing on affordability and equity presents challenges when we look at the demands placed on Bon Appétit. The college requires that Bon Appétit pays a living wage to all of its employees, they must work on the composting program, and they locally source as much as they can.
According to Moore, “we can’t have all those requirements and then say, but we want to be sure you give us the same price level as someone who uses all canned goods, doesn’t locally source, pays below the living wage…right?” So, it comes down to our priorities as a college. Is sustainably sourced food our priority or should we focus on affordability? Can we prioritize both?
The contract is not up for renewal until July. However, the time for student input is now. As Monica Black stated to me, “I mean, we’re paying so we should have a very explicit democracy.” The administration is open to conversation and has framed the contract renewal as a stakeholder-driven process. It is possible that a majority of CC students do not want to see anything change in our dining services. Meanwhile, others believe less fancy food could drive down costs for students. Does the college want to maintain ten-dollar sushi bowls and the occasional beet and truffle-flavored salts? Maybe. The conversation is open for those who are interested in advance of contract renewal.