Food disservice: an open letter to the Colby community

Dear Colby Community,

There are many pleasures—and more than a few joys—associated with teaching at Colby. It is especially gratifying when traditional roles are reversed and students teach faculty to see important ethical questions afresh. The work of United for a Better Dining Services (UBDS) presents one such occasion. Students associated with UBDS have been conducting research on, organizing around, and opening public conversations about a variety of important issues related to our food service contract and the corporation that currently provides these services: Sodexo. Why now? The college is preparing to renegotiate its contract with Sodexo. This poses an important opportunity to redefine our relationship to the food we eat and those who prepare it.

Steeped in cultural and social meaning, food invites a nearly endless series of questions. Inspired by the work of UBDS, we highlight two issues in this letter: working conditions for those employed by Sodexo and the effects of our dining services contract on the local economy.

First, we must, as a community, be certain that those who prepare our food, serve that food in the dining halls, and cater events across campus, are afforded pay and benefits that allow them to lead lives of dignity. This must include a living wage—which MIT researchers have calculated to be between $14 and $20/hour in Maine, depending on family size—and access to quality healthcare. Some will surely object that this is potentially costly and can only be implemented at the expense of other core academic priorities. We would ask, however, should anything we do at Colby be supported through the sacrifices of the lowest-paid workers on campus?

The question of whether we want to continue with Sodexo as our partner—or if we would be better served by other providers, or even by directly hiring those who work in the dining halls, as Bates and Bowdoin do—should be discussed further. What is certain is that the current arrangement, in which we have an exclusive contract with Sodexo for all food provision, is lamentable.

This monopoly contract prohibits us from ordering from area restaurants when, for example, our departments organize events on campus. This does not simply limit our choices, it means that vital financial resources flow to Sodexo’s corporate headquarters rather than stay with locally owned businesses such as Pad Thai Too, Holy Cannoli and Barrels Market. Opening our purchasing possibilities to include catering from area restaurants would reinforce the exciting new plans that President Greene has outlined for revitalizing Waterville’s downtown.

This is not only a matter of ethics; the wellbeing of the college depends on the economic health of the city in which it is located.

What we eat, how food is grown, and the working conditions of those who prepare it, are important issues that touch all of us who live and/or work at Colby. There should be broad participation in the discussion about how we, as a community, should proceed. We hope this discussion will include the questions we have raised here—as well as new questions we have not yet considered, but that UBDS and others on campus will inspire us to confront.

Sincerely,

Hideko Abe

Lisa Arellano

Catherine Besteman

Chandra Bhimull

Nicholas Boekelheide

Lyn Mikel Brown

Lynne Connor

Megan Cook

Valerie Dionne

Ben Fallaw

Patrice Franko

Jill Gordon

Artie Greenspan

Walter Hatch

Adam Howard

Paul Josephson

Elizabeth LaCouture

Elizabeth Leonard

Ben Lisle

Addis Mason

Lindsay Mayka

Margaret McFadden

Mary Beth Mills

Lydia Moland

Jorge Olivares

Keith Peterson

Maple Razsa

Hanna Roisman

Joseph Roisman

Anindyo Roy

Cyrus Shahan

Laura Saltz

Betty Sasaki

Julie de Sherbinin

Judy Stone

David Strohl

David Suchoff

Mark Tappan

Winifred Tate

Sonja Thomas

Steve Wurtzler

Jennifer Yoder

Hong Zhang

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