Posted December 6, 2012 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

Aramark: Is There Really a Better Option?

Over the years, the Evergreen community has been at varying levels of anti-establishment and anti-corporation. This isn’t news to me and it probably isn’t news to you. For many students, I am sure that was a huge plus coming to school here.

One of the corporations that Evergreen students seems to have a huge problem with is Aramark, our current food vendor. Over the years, complaints about Aramark have been raised about the price, the lack of variation and the questionable nutritional value of food served in the Greenery. It seems that many students have no interest in continuing a partnership with a corporation – they think that Evergreen would be far better off if it were to run its own food service program instead of contracting through big business.

I think that Evergreen’s spirit of anti-corporation blinds many students to the benefits of contracting out to a corporation for our food services. Aramark has done a lot for Evergreen – more than I think Evergreen could do on its own, were it to run the Greenery itself.

One of the many complaints I have heard about Aramark is the price of food – it’s expensive. Really expensive. Why can’t Aramark charge less for food? They’re a big corporation – they can afford it, right? Anyone who has worked in the foodservice industry can tell you that it is extremely difficult to make money, especially in the present day.

In 2004, students could expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 a year for food services, depending on the amount of block meals and declining balance students wished to purchase per quarter. Prices of the mandatory meal plans have fluctuated between 2004 and 2012, but there has been a general increase. “[Meal plans] have gone up three or four percent every year since I have been here,” said Sharon Goodman, Director of RAD services on campus. “Prices are getting high, and we know that.”  Presently, freshmen students are expected to pay between $2,770 and $4,000 a year for food services for plans similar to those in 2004, marking nearly a $1,000 increase in prices.

One major reason for this price increase is related to the Consumer Price Index. “Food prices have been continually going up in the last five years. If you look at the Consumer Price Index, food [prices] have really gone up in the last couple years,” Goodman continued. Goodman suggested that another explanation for the increase in price was the increase in student demand for sustainable products and organic food at Evergreen. “Local food and sustainable food cost more in this country. It’s not subsidized by the government,” Goodman concluded.

What about late night dining?

Joey Jimenez, a regular night student who commutes from Puyallup, echoed a sentiment among many night students who do not live on campus. “I’d want to eat after class, but The Greenery and The Market would be closed. It’s frustrating.”

The reason that the Greenery and the Market aren’t open late anymore is because students never went. “It didn’t pay for itself, and we lost money every night. Between 9 and 11, sometimes there were less than 14 people,” said Goodman.

Many students aren’t aware of the many things that Aramark does to try and help Evergreen at no cost to the school. In accordance with Evergreen’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2020, Aramark has decreased its carbon emissions from food delivery by 33%, without costing the college money. Since 2006 and the carbon neutrality goal, Aramark has also been increasing its purchasing of local and organic foods until 40% of all their money spent on food went to local and/or organic food purchasing. That, as I mentioned earlier, costs Aramark a good amount of money, but doesn’t cost the school a penny.

Furthermore, Aramark set aside $175,000 to help Evergreen remodel the Greenery back in 2010, detailed in one of the numerous food contract amendments. Aramark set aside the money because Evergreen couldn’t afford to remodel the Greenery on its own.

Still, many students think that it is a better idea for Evergreen to run its own food service than through a corporation. I say, what guarantee is there that Evergreen would do a better job running food services than Aramark, or any other food vendor corporation?

Many students like to think that food would cost less – I disagree.

What evidence is there that Evergreen would charge less for food than a corporation? Collin Orr, Director of Business at Evergreen, noted that Evergreen would have to pay for everything Aramark currently pays for: food, employee’s wages and benefits, insurance, licenses, and everything else required for running a food service. Orr commented that even if Evergreen was completely prepared to run its own food service, it would still take the college more than two years to completely switch over to a self-run food service.

Additionally, where is Evergreen going to get the money needed for the switch? It has to come from somewhere – tuition rates may increase, programs and classes may be cut, or – what makes most sense to me – Evergreen would charge more for food. If anything, having Evergreen run the Greenery would be more expensive than through a corporation.

On top of those increased costs, students still think that there is room for more organic and sustainable food in Evergreen’s hypothetical food budget. If anything, more organic food will just keep driving the price of food services higher.

Still, isn’t it better to charge more money and be self-run than to support a greedy, capitalist corporation?

That is where you have me. I am not pro-corporation – quite the opposite. I think that big businesses and corporations should be watched very closely, and that transparency is a necessity when dealing with a capitalist system. I think it is best to invest in businesses that give back to the community instead of a faceless corporation that does not care for our society beyond how to make a few more bucks.

Aramark has done a lot over the past eight years to accommodate student’s wants and the college’s needs, and as a part of our everyday college life, does not deserve constant corporate-shaming. If you want to learn more about what Aramark does for the college, or what other corporations have planned for Evergreen’s new food contract, I recommend going to the public presentations of bidders in winter quarter.

By Ray Still