At USF, the earth means the world to us, and last Tuesday Apr. 22, students, faculty, and community members had the chance to prove that sentiment by celebrating Earth Day on Gleeson Plaza. Nearly thirty tables from clubs and outside organizations promoting a sustainable world attended the event. There were also food trucks, face painting, henna, baby goats, and free tea samples.
Undoubtedly one of the largest concerns that students had this academic year was regarding the many facets of the food service at USF which include the Office of Business and Finance, Bon Appétit management, Events Management and Guest Services as well as Bon Appétit the corporation.
One of my recent discoveries is that most students across the country are unhappy with on-campus dining, and the issues we are grappling with here are not limited to Bon Appétit or USF. Not too long ago, I had a conversation with two friends from other universities. One goes to Yale, and the other goes to Oberlin, but neither are in a food-mecca like San Francisco. Both shared a common problem with their on-campus dining options; even though there are multiple choices per meal, many of the food items tasted the same. Both friends hypothesized that the cooks at their schools use the same spices in every meal. With this monotony, eating is not an opportunity for nourishment, pleasure, or relaxation, but a chore. We at USF have a unique opportunity to call San Francisco—one of the world’s most delicious cities—our home. With so many dining options around us, our on-campus options often do not satisfy. This makes me wonder how universal the issue of on-campus dining is, and if it can ever be reconciled.
Issues with Bon Appétit include inflated prices (up to a 200% markup), food quality, treatment of employees, and the company’s supposed refusal to release certain information. This begs the question—is our on-campus dining really below satisfactory? Many experts would disagree; The New York Times wrote that Bon Appétit’s food “deserves to be served with wine”; 7×7 Magazine likens Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appétit’s CEO, to food pioneers Alice Waters and Michael Pollan; The Washington Post reported on the company’s choice to only use humanely raised beef, and The Huffington Post reported on the company’s fight to ban gestation crates for pigs. It seems like Bon Appétit is a company that cares, and is possibly the best of its kind. Of course, if we, the consumers, are not completely satisfied by what it has to offer, then there is obviously some disconnect and room for improvement.
As recently as last November, ASUSF senate took action and organized a boycott of Bon Appétit. There were some food trucks on campus, giving students a convenient, fun option so that they could make a statement without starving. This was a great short-term option, but we will need to find some way to have satisfactory food on campus.
I would just like to inject a little more perspective here, not to say that our complaints are empty, but that we are in a big boat that we share with practically all college students. Actually, we are not just in this boat, but we are at its helm, in a much better position than many other college students. But this makes one wonder if there is a limit to the quality of food, and, ultimately, the quality of life a college student can achieve.
Thus, the issue is not just about food; dining is just one of the many examples of students having an inferior quality of living. Dorm life in general is not of a particularly high quality, and student loans historically have some of the highest interest rates of any. Meals have the potential to give us an opportunity to make a very personal change multiple times a day, and we need to feel some power over what we eat. We should also be able to use mealtimes as a time to step back and dive in, to truly enjoy a break so that we can better do what we came here to do: study. And that is what all of this talk about on-campus dining comes down to; making some of life’s simple pleasures less pleasant, making nourishment seem like a chore. Food is something we come into contact with multiple times a day, something that has the potential to nourish our souls and fuel our minds. There are few things more sacred than sharing a meal with friends, or sneaking a midnight snack into your bed without waking your roommates or parents. We are students, we need brain food in this time in which every inch of our beings are growing in a way that it never has before and never will again.
These issues are not all really Bon Appétit’s fault—they are symptoms of a cultural problem we all have to overcome. We are disconnected from our food; we seldom know where it comes from and how it gets to us, and we are usually too preoccupied with other things to care. We need to find a way to be more connected to what we eat, whether that means on-campus kitchens run completely by students, more student involvement in the current Bon Appétit establishment, or something else altogether. What we need is to take time away from Twitter or Facebook or even face-to-face-complaining and to get together with friends and prepare and enjoy a meal. This is something that everyone, including Bon Appétit wants; their mission statement proclaims, “breaking bread together helps to create a sense of community and comfort”. We just need to get off of our behinds and into the kitchen.
Editor’s note: In last week’s issue, Jan. 31, Charles Morone’s piece was not run correctly in print due to a mishap during the production process. Below is the entirety of his piece, and this is a formal apology for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Last Dec. 6 the American Studies Association (ASA), founded in 1951, voted to pass a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions and scholars, who would be denied participation in scholarly meetings and conferences in the United States. The Native American Association and Indigenous Studies Association have since joined the boycott. The ASA claims to justify their actions on the grounds that Israel has violated international law and United Nations resolutions. As ASA’s resolution directly states, Israeli universities have been targeted because they are “party to state policies that violate human rights.”
The main impetus for this boycott is the perceived treatment of Palestinian scholars by the Israeli military and government, and the desire to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Clearly, however, this boycott of Israeli institutions is a step backwards in the intractable search for a peaceful resolution to the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The main premise of the boycott is in retaliation for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. But if the main problem is the way a state treats its occupants, why in the world single out Israel? There are so many countries in the Middle East with far worse human rights records. In response to a query along these lines, Curtis Marez, the current ASA President replied “You have to start somewhere.” The obtuseness and ethically convoluted reasoning in his answer is mind-boggling. Yes, most observers agree that the Palestinian people have endured long heartaches, but at what point does “starting somewhere” become blind to suicide bombings and shelling of innocent civilians on the border towns of Israel? Why is no proportional attention brought to the maltreatment of Palestinians in other Arab countries, where they are kept in perpetual poverty and desperation?
Why in fact do we know so much about the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli police and the military? Because Israel has the most free press in the region and a very lively, critical public sphere, all of which are woefully lacking in most Arab countries in the region. Israel not only tolerates free discussion about its conflict with Palestine, but has political parties and organizations that support the Palestinian claim of statehood.
The boycott has triggered an understandably intense backlash. Even inside the organization, the last eight presidents of the ASA have opposed it, claiming that it is “antithetical to the mission of free and open inquiry for which a scholarly organization stands.”
Over one hundred and eighty academic institutions and universities have criticized the boycott, accompanied by bipartisan condemnation of fifty congressmen. Since only one-third of the ASA’s membership voted for the boycott, one can justifiably ask what percent of the ASA’s own members agree with this action to begin with? Given this widespread and justified outrage over a misguided and indeed pernicious boycott, the question for us is, why has USF not raised its own objections? Why are we standing on the sidelines in the face of an obviously unjust, discriminatory action that should shame us deeply? When academic organizations drop all pretense of academic objectivity and join a political cause, a grave and important line has been crossed.
If we as students and citizens really wish to “change the world from here,” it will not happen by condemning Israeli academics, with whom we share so much more culturally and intellectually than with the butchers and criminals of this world, who truly are deserving of our moral outrage.
Student Senate Organizes Protest Against Bon Appétit’s Monopoly on Campus
Today ASUSF Senate is hosting a boycott of the Bon Appétit dining services at USF. At the time this issue went to print, there were 930 people committed to a Facebook event that calls on students to forgo using Bon Appétit services on Thursday.
“Bon Appétit has been the number one concern since I was sophomore class representative,” said ASU President, Johnny Chibnall, “We tried addressing it by creating a food committee, and there were conversations going on within the committee but no action happened with it.”
Bonnie Azab Powell, Director of Communications at Bon Appétit Management Company, said that student food advisory committee will be reinstated and will meet regularly throughout the semester. Powell also addressed the concern’s about Bon Appétit monopoly on campus, saying “while yes, we are the only food service provider at USF — which is the standard at 95% of college campuses that use food-service providers — we are well aware that we have to compete with everything a world-class food destination like San Francisco has to offer.”
Charlie Cross, Vice President of the Office of Accounting & Business Services and Chief Financial Officer of USF wasn’t available for a sit-down or phone interview, but over email he said that he wasn’t aware of any criticism or complaints students had of Bon Appétit.
Chibnall said that Senate would like to see Bon Appetit do a better job at food labeling and allergens, and improve food safety, extend hours during holidays and weekends, a reduction or justification for campus catering, and increased communication and transparency between USF, Bon Appétit, and the students.
“This is a very peaceful assembly. We want to build awareness,” Chibnall added.
The most recent cause for concern has been the removal of the subsidy provided to USF campus organizations for catering services. According to Gregory V. Wolcott, Assistant Vice Provost of Student Leadership and Engagement (SLE), two years ago there was a 50% discount in place for student organizations, and last year it was reduced to 25%.
“This year we were notified there would no longer be a flat discount, but that Bon Appétit would develop a value menu to help offset costs to student organizations. The subsidy was originally approved by Accounting & Business Services at cost to the university, whereas the value menu would be provided by Bon Appétit,” Wolcott added.
“After careful financial analysis, Accounting & Business Services could no longer subsidize those discounts,” said Anne-Marie Devine, USF senior director of media relations.
The spark for this boycott came from the most recent ASUSF Fall Summit, in which the top two leaders from every student organization on campus are required to attend, when concerns about Bon Appétit were at the forefront of almost every discussion.
“The entire conversation turned to Bon Appétit,” said Taylor Jackson, senior class representative who spearheaded the boycott. “The students felt like they weren’t being heard, and their needs weren’t being addressed.”
Bon Appétit is Planning Changes
According to Cross, Bon Appétit has come up with a number of initiatives that are currently underway —including an attempt to resurrect the student food committee, an online survey, a 25% discount for student group catering events, a daily value special in the cafeteria, and expanded training of cashiers to reduce transaction time and lines. Bon Appétit Management Company has confirmed this.
USF’s contract with Bon Appétit has been in place since 2004, and will be in place for “at least 15 additional years,” said Cross.
According to Wolcott, Bon Appétit has always had exclusive rights to provide food service on campus, but that policy wasn’t being strictly enforced. In August, Events Management & Guest Services provided SLE with guidelines that stated the policies that clubs had to follow for meetings, events, and fundraisers.
Previously, requests for off-campus food service came to Bon Appétit directly and were approved on a case-by-case basis. However, Powell said that last year USF reorganized to have Events Management and Guest Services handle those requests. Foghorn calls to Events Management and Guest Services were directed to the USF Media Relations office.
“It’s a lot cheaper if we make tamales ourselves or get them from an off-campus source,” said Latinas Unidas Student Organization President Elizabeth Hernandez. “Under these new restrictions, we can’t afford as much food as we used to be able to for our events. At our last event some members of our organization didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough.” According to Jackson, there have been complaints from students ranging from the handling of food in the cafeteria to the quality of it. According to an inspection conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health on April 17, Market Café received a violation of “High risk food holding temperature” and moderate risk of “Foods not protected from contamination.” However, both these violations were later corrected on May 17.
In addition to the boycott, Jackson has opened an email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, for students to submit complaints and stories about their experience with Bon Appétit. Also, instead of the regularly scheduled Senate meeting next Tuesday, there will be an open forum where Bon Appétit officials, members of the Office of Accounting & Business Services, and students will be able to talk about their issues with the food management company.
Students Have Mixed Feelings About Boycott
“I feel like it was kind of about time something happened because Bon App has turned into a sort of monopoly instead of a catering company,” said sophomore Phelan resident, Stephanie Ortiz, “They ridiculously overprice everything and the prices increased from last year.”
Jessica Melendez, President of MEChA de USF said, “I thought [the boycott] is great! I had been hearing a lot of people having issues with Bon Appétit this semester, so I felt it was great that we were getting into action to do something about it.”
Other students criticized the boycott. Morganne Dodds, former Bon Appétit employee and current senior, noted that high prices are a result of the local and sustainable food options, and any request for longer hours puts a strain on employees who already work long hours.
“As a student who dines at Bon Appétit,” said Dodds, “I actually really enjoy their food. It has definitely improved since my freshman year and more of a variety has been brought in.”
Bon Appétit chefs can cook anything, but is it authentic?
“The university holds diversity to such high standards, and advertises how diverse the campus is, and this policy doesn’t reflect that,” Hernandez said. “Food is the part of a culture we can share. Not being able to share that takes away part of what makes us unique.”
Hernandez says that members of student organizations aren’t happy with the authenticity of the food, and the monopoly Bon Appétit holds on campus catering is making fundraising difficult.
Wolcott said, “A majority of fundraising done by student organizations has not been impacted. However, those groups who sold external or home cooked food (outside of bake sales) are no longer able to do so.”
When a Foghorn reporter asked Hernandez if she has tried bringing her own recipes to the Bon Appétit chefs to help with the authenticity problem, she replied: “I have heard of that, but I mean, our grandmas could make it for free.”
ASUSF Senate has written an open letter about Bon Appetit to Charlie Cross in the Opinion section.
I will be the first to admit my raging coffee addiction.
By the end of last semester, I needed at least three large cups of dark roast to get me through the day. Although I’ve since cut back on my daily coffee dose, I’m still very groggy and unfocused if I’m not adequately caffeinated.
This inability to focus without caffeine is especially a problem when I, like so many other students, have to stay up late in order to meet my daily responsibilities. Inevitably, the fact that there isn’t any coffee on campus after 8 p.m. begins to severely impede upon my work ethic after a certain point in the night. The lack of coffee on campus after such an early hour (early by college student standards) is utterly inexplicable.
Of course, there are a few late-night coffee options off campus, but none of them are particularly convenient or practical. I’m not too fond of having to trek through Laurel Heights around midnight, hoping that I can find a seat at the 24-hour Starbucks, just so I can keep doing my homework or Foghorn assignment.
I know I’m not alone in this problem. If you go to any local place that’s open after the cafeteria closes and serves passable coffee, there is always at least one USF student seeking out a caffeine boost. The symptoms of this problem are very evident on campus, if you look around the library at night, there are a noticeable number of people either glancing despairingly at their emptied coffee cups or suppressing a yawn.
I have absolutely no explanation as to why USF insists on limiting the amount of coffee available on campus. Most students lead incredibly busy lives, trying to balance work, a social life and studying. It seems unreasonable to simply not have something that might help people get their responsibilities done, especially when Bon Appetite has the resources to provide students with coffee past 8 p.m.
The adverse effects of caffeine withdrawals are prone to striking at the latest hours—and at the least convenient times.
Anyone who has been even mildly dependent on caffeine (like me) can recall at least one time when they went too long without their fix and describe the crippling migraines and waves of nausea. Trying to complete assignments and battle the urge to just curl up and focus on not getting sick is an almost impossible battle, but one that is commonplace amongst college students. It’s frustrating to feel like I’m racing against my own dependency on coffee in order to get my homework done, but it’s even more aggravating to know that this problem could easily be fixed if Bon Appetite simply chose to make coffee available in the evening.
USF has at least two options in providing students with coffee; Outtakes, which is open late, and the coffee bar. Outtakes more than likely has the capacity to keep their already existing coffee machine running on a consistent basis, and the coffee bar can surely be kept open later. If the needs of students are held in high regard, why is something this basic being ignored?