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Presentations and Protests: the Politics of Scripps’ Dining Contract Negotiations

Kendall Lowery ’22
Food Columnist/Copy Editor

Last week, students from across the 5Cs wielding Drop Sodexo signs streamed into Balch Hall as part of a mass protest against the corporation’s dining contract presentation to the community. Sodexo was the third and final dining services vendor to make their pitch to Scripps students, faculty and staff before the college’s contract with Sodexo runs out in June 2020. However, while the first two vendor presentations were sparsely attended by students, Sodexo’s various representatives, including Malott’s new General Manager Garrick Hisamoto, were met with a full house.

The student community had shown up in full force in order to reiterate their demands of nearly a year prior, originally announced in a letter to Scripps President Lara Tiedens. This letter contained a petition asking Tiedens to discontinue Scripps’ contract with Sodexo in 2020 and included the following demands:

“1. A promise that Scripps will not contract with Sodexo, Aramark or Compass.
2. Dining management through either a transition to in house management or a contract with an outside company that abides by the following: a) procurement practices that are sustainable as well as socially and ethically responsible to minimize the college’s carbon footprint and other harmful effects on the environment. b) maintenance of all current Malott workers as well as a guarantee for a living wage and proper benefits such as paid sick days, retirement plans, and healthcare in accordance with the High Road workplace practices. c) a management system that responds to worker concerns. d) encouragement for all vendors to invest in their workers and the communities where they operate.
3. A transparent contracting process that involves workers, students, and the greater community by taking into account and adequately responding to their needs.”

In the time since Tiedens has received these demands, a Request For Proposal was sent to 10 different dining services vendors. Five of those vendors responded with proposals, three of whom were invited to Scripps to present these contracts to the student body. The contracts will be evaluated on the basis of company culture, culinary philosophy, leadership, communications and service strategy, financial feasibility and operations practices, according to Toby Bushee, Scripps Executive Director of Conference & Event Administration.

All three proposals incorporated initiatives to relieve Malott’s lunchtime congestion, as well as either an extension of dining hall hours or the construction of a student lounge similar to Jay’s Place that would remain open outside of normal dining hours.

The first presenter, Bon Appetit, has already established their reputation in Claremont as the dining services vendor for Pitzer College and Claremont McKenna College. “Personally, I thought Bon Appetit had the most appealing presentation, at least on the surface,” Anne Shalamoff ’20 said. “They even had a fellow on stage who a year ago was a student at Emory in Boston. She had a compelling speech about her struggle with administration as an activist for food and environmental justice on her campus until the school switched over to Bon Appetit at which point there was much less tension and much more collaboration… However, there are two important facts that need to be addressed. Bon Appetit is owned by Compass which is the largest dining service company operating in the U.S., even larger than Sodexo. Secondly, Compass provides food services for prisons.”

Controversially, Bon Appetit’s parent company, the Compass Group, has faced many of the same critiques as Sodexo. Compass is currently the largest contract foodservice company in the world and it continues to provide dining and vending services to prisons across North America. Furthermore, in 2008, prisons serviced by a subsidiary of the Compass Group tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium which can lead to brain and blood infections.

The second dining services vendor to present, SAGE, is a relatively small, family-run company dedicated to serving small and mid sized private colleges. Similarly to the other vendors, SAGE communicated their commitment to sustainable practices, locally sourced ingredients and maintaining the benefits and employment of Scripps’ current dining staff. However, some of SAGE’s sustainability practices seemed to lack forethought; most notably, they were the only vendor to neglect the inclusion of a specific strategy dedicated to the elimination of food waste.

The relatively relaxed nature of the first two vendor presentations stood in sharp contrast to Sodexo’s pitch. Students showed up en masse, and additionally, many Malott employees attended the presentation in order to voice their support for Sodexo and for Hisamoto. Though Hisamoto has been a chef at Scripps for the better part of a decade, this is his first year as the general manager of the dining hall and has been responsible for many of the changes implemented over the past semester, including the addition of power bowls, kombucha, and the new vegan Sprouted station at Malott.

“Garrick is doing a good job, food’s different, everything’s different,” said Victor Huerta, a member of the dining staff who voiced his approval of Sodexo during their presentation.

Thankfully, Scripps’ decision concerning the dining services provider they will partner with in the 2020 contract will not affect the job security of the majority of the people who work at Malott, as they are employed by the college. However, Hisamoto and other members of the dining hall’s upper level management will likely lose their positions if Scripps chooses another dining service provider, as they are employed by Sodexo.

Though the initial presentation went uninterrupted, the Q&A portion of the session allowed students to confront Sodexo’s corporate representatives head on.

“Scripps prides itself on its CORE curriculum, which teaches everyone in our community about different social justice issues in hopes of creating young leaders who will dedicate themselves to fighting oppression and injustice wherever they are — like the Prison Industrial Complex,” Maddie Moore ’22 said. “How can you be a member of our community, Sodexo, when you as a company do not commit to our community values and commit the very injustices we were taught to fight?”

Jennifer Williamson, Sodexo’s Senior Vice President of Brand & Communications, North America, represented the company during the Q&A session.

“The instances that you describe are very rare,” said Williamson.

Several students interjected during her responses, calling on Williamson to provide more succinct and focused answers to their inquiries.

“It’s a shame that so few students went to the Bon Appetit and SAGE presentations,” Shalamoff said. “I thought students brought up really valid issues with Sodexo and their spokesperson remained calm but didn’t do a good job of addressing the issues being presented by students.”

Scripps students have done the talking; now we’ll have to wait and see if dining service providers and the administration are finally willing to listen.

Image Credit: Drop Sodexo Instagram

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