Pass the Arugula
CSUMB considers replacing eco-friendly Sodexho with a new food-service provider.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Given the choice, many college students would probably choose grease over greens. Yet CSU-Monterey Bay sophomore Josh Varon seems to have found the right combination of vegetables and fried food. Varon, who has dark hair and an unshaven face, takes a bite out of his Gardenburger. He then dips his French fries in ketchup.
As a vegetarian, Varon’s options at the Otter Express eatery range from a grilled cheese sandwich to an organic packaged salad. But it’s the end of the school year, and students like Varon are either sick of campus food or out of money on their meal card—or both. “I think kids are going to complain about the food anyways, if they are forced to eat it,” Varon says.
Come fall semester students may have a new food service provider to complain about. Three companies—Sodexho USA, Aramark and Chartwells—are competing for the dining contract on campus, which, based on last year’s sales, is worth at least $3 million. Sodexho, the incumbent, has been a bellwether for sustainability on campus, from fair trade coffee to biodegradable utensils. When it launched in 2004, the Sodexho partnership with Earthbound Farm to provide organic produce at CSUMB served as a national model. However, students complain about Sodexho’s prices and lack of variety.
Currently, a committee of students and faculty are studying the three proposals, and will make a recommendation by the end of the month. But it’s difficult for anyone outside the committee to compare the contractors. The Foundation of CSUMB, a nonprofit tasked with raising money for the university that is responsible for overseeing on-campus housing and dining services, among other things, won’t release any details about the proposals. Plus, committee members have signed confidentiality statements agreeing not to talk about the specifics of the plans.
Robert Graham, Associated Students president and a committee member, says all three contractors have proposed switching to a meal quota system in place of the current check card approach. Students living in the old Army barracks now pay $1,250, while students in the new North Quad Suites pay $1,100 each semester for a meal plan. All 1,200 students who live on campus—excluding those who live in the North Quad and East Campus apartments—must buy a food card.
Graham isn’t a fan of the all-you-can-eat, buffet-style meals proposed by one company. “This would allow students to eat their sorrows away,” Graham says. “Instead of the freshman 15, freshman 50.”
Moreover, one company wants to contract out food service at the Black Box Cabaret, the only all student-run venue on campus. Currently, the BBC is the only place to get non-Sodexho grub. But the Foundation is tired of covering the facility’s losses. The BBC lost about $91,000 this fiscal year and is projected to go in the red more than $113,000 next year. The Foundation is also expected to subsidize dining services to the tune of a half a million dollars. This is not surprising, considering that the Foundation is a nonprofit designed to provide these services. But next year, it expects a $763,000 deficit.
Maria A.Y. Garcia, director of operations at the Foundation, says expenses such as maintenance and utilities have gone up. Although the Foundation expects to go in the red, Garcia says the committee is not looking for a food service contractor to make money for the Foundation. “We want to make sure that whatever food program is being provided is going to meet the needs of the campus community,” she says.
Garcia, who also chairs the committee, says she wants a provider to de liver high-quality, reasonably-priced food that is also sustainable. With its environmental track record, Sodexho likely has the advantage.
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Most cafeteria managers probably wouldn’t excitedly escort a reporter out back to their dumpster as part of a tour. But Daniel Kaupie, general manager for Sodexho at CSUMB, wants to show off a new cooking oil filter.
The tall and stocky Kaupie walks out to the loading dock. Two black five-gallon buckets are stacked in the corner. The first container filters the trans-fat free oil through what looks like a steel wastebasket. The oil then soaks through something that resembles a cotton shirtsleeve and falls into the other container, ready to be used as fuel. Professors, Kaupie says, routinely pull their bio-diesel cars behind the Dining Commons and fill up their tanks. Eventually he’d like to filter enough oil to fuel a campus shuttle.
The vegetable oil filter and the nearby compost bin are only two examples of sustainability initiatives pioneered by Sodexho. More than 40 percent of Sodexho’s on-campus produce is organic, primarily from Earthbound Farm. Menus at the Otter Bay Cafe highlight the fact that almost all veggies and fruits are organic, and the chicken is hormone- and antibiotic-free. Plus, Sodexho offers local foods, such as pastries from Seaside’s Cypress Bakery and fair-trade certified java from Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company.
The cups and utensils are eco-friendly, too. The cutlery is made from 80 percent potato starch and 20 percent soy, while the contractor uses a combination of paper, sugar pulp and a corn bi-product for its plates, bowl, containers, cups and straws. Kaupie fills up a coffee cup with hot water and then demonstrates how a biodegradable corn straw—unlike the petroleum-based standard—instantly crumples up when it is exposed to heat.
Although Kaupie says these products are about 6 percent more expensive, the cost hasn’t been passed on to the students. “It’s an expense we are willing to invest in,” he says.
Kaupie’s push for sustainability began three years when students petitioned Sodexho to offer fair trade coffee instead of Starbucks. Kaupie says students educated him about the importance of using recycled products and supporting local farmers. “I was awakened by students and faculty who were compassionate about the earth and environment,” he says.
This also prompted Kaupie to follow a raw food diet. Kaupie, who says he used to be a chubby meat eater, went vegan in January 2006. Now he weighs 110 pounds less.
Sodexho recently agreed to a three-year contract for its 40 cafeteria workers, who are represented by Unite Here! Local 483. The company, Kaupie says, routinely hires workers from Turning Point of Central California, a rehabilitation program for drug users and people recently released from jail or prison.
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At the Student Center, Varon eats fries while students line up at the Otter Express to order cheeseburgers, ignoring the Sodexho sign highlighting the vegetarian items.
If Sodexho wins a contract extension, Kaupie says he wants to partner with Salinas-based ALBA Organics. Given the secrecy surrounding the proposals, however, it’s hard to tell whether a new food service provider would follow suit.
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||1Million||
The number of people food service provider Sodexho, Inc. serves each day at schools (including CSU Monterey Bay), nursing homes, hospitals, businesses and government and military sites—a total roughly equivalent to the population of the Czech Republic. Source: Sodexho, Inc.