Students at the 5Cs may be used to eating tomatoes and bananas every day at the dining halls, but some students are raising awareness that serving such exotic foods is an injustice. Caitlin Watkins PZ ’13 said that providing local food, as several institutions in the 5Cs already do, might mean that students will not be able to eat bananas every day. Watkins sees this as a chance to educate the community about food justice, pointing to Pitzer College’s Grove House to illustrate her point.
“The Grove House has stopped serving anything that is not local or in season, and it’s definitely an adjustment period. People can’t have tomatoes for their sandwiches, too bad. If they know why they can’t have tomatoes on their sandwiches, because they were sourced from Florida in a case of modern-day slavery, maybe they won’t be so mad,” Watkins said.
In line with Pomona College’s Food Day on Oct. 24, new food justice initiatives at the 5Cs are emerging, but tensions remain between student-led and dining hall efforts. Pitzer’s McConnell Bistro plans to hold another Local Day in November, serving only local food grown within 150 miles of Pitzer. Watkins and other students are starting a 5C chapter of Slow Food International. However, student activists and other members of the 5C community believe that McConnell may be limited in its actions because it is run by a food service corporation.
McConnell is run by Bon Appétit, which describes itself as a “Food Service for a Sustainable Future.” Local Day was part of the “Eat Local Challenge,” a national challenge by Bon Appétit. Dennis Lofland, Bon Appétit manager at Pitzer, chose to have McConnell serve entirely local food for lunch on Sept. 20.
Watkins and Emily Robin PZ ’14 are starting a Slow Food chapter in the 5Cs. Slow Food, named in opposition to fast food, is an international non-profit that focuses on good, clean, and fair food.
Robin said that the aim of Slow Food at Claremont is to bring together food justice organizations at the 5Cs that have been previously unconnected. “Any kind of food justice project is what Slow Food is about. It’s really about having an umbrella organization for all the different clubs and student initiatives that exist on campus,” she said.
Robin added, “Being on a college campus where everyone talks about social change all the time, food is the number one way that we participate in social justice every day, or not—just keep perpetuating the current system that’s happening.”
Watkins thought that McConnell’s Local Day had good intentions, but she believed that Bon Appétit was limited because it is a corporation. She said, “Bon Appétit is a relatively ethical and well-run company compared to Sodexo and ARAMARK. They’ve worked with Real Food Challenge, and so I think that they really try to make an effort in that sense, but they’re still a profit-driven company.”
Watkins added that she did not necessarily see Slow Food working with McConnell in the future. “It can be difficult because they are part of a corporation, so having them be connected with Slow Food [Claremont] would be very, very bureaucratic,” she said.
Lofland said that Local Day could be a learning experience for students. “When people sit down and they eat a meal, it often doesn’t occur to them where that food is coming from,” he said.
Lofland plans to have more Local Days in the future, possibly as soon as the second week in November.
According to Lofland, Local Day should not cost Pitzer more money than any other meal. He plans to bring a farmer to Local Day so students can interact with the people who grow their food.
Claremont McKenna College’s Collins Bistro, also serviced by Bon Appétit, participated in the Eat Local Challenge as well. Bon Appétit services over 450 accounts in 31 states, including Google and eBay.
Watkins commended Lofland’s efforts, but added, “[Lofland] is working for Bon Appétit, he’s not working for Pitzer College. That’s why I think self-operation as implemented by Pomona is a great, great system to have. All that money is going back to Pomona, not toward Bon Appétit. And that money is going back into the educational system, not to outside sources, not to industrial farms that provide the food.”
Sustainability and Purchasing Coordinator for Pomona College Dining Services Samantha Meyer PO ’10 said that being self-operated allows her to have more flexibility in obtaining local food for Pomona.
Meyer defined local food as produce grown and non-produce items processed within 250 miles of the campus. Thirty percent of produce at Pomona is locally grown.
“It’s a huge part of our mission to focus on sustainability, and a big part of that is local. We do it both because it’s the right thing to do and because this is obviously an educational institution and we want to let students know why we’re committed to this,” Meyer said.
Much of the food served by the Grove House is grown in Pitzer’s garden. Zenia Gutiérrez, manager of the Grove House, is also a former McConnell employee who left when she was offered the position at the Grove House. She commended McConnell for its efforts at bringing local food to students. “Most students don’t care what [they] eat, but McConnell puts a lot of thought into it,” Gutiérrez said.
Gutiérrez said that the Grove House can connect students back to the origins of their food. “People don’t have that connection with food anymore,” she said.