August 30, 2012

Saying bon appétit to local food

Knox students may soon be eating more local, fresh food thanks to the efforts of a group of students to bring a new food contractor to campus.

As part of their Sustainability: Explorations and Opportunities class, sophomore Aliya Haykus, freshmen Nora McGinn and Anna Viet Huong Nguyen, junior David Jewell and senior Max Galloway-Carson investigated the practices of Waugh Foods, a distributor from which Knox currently gets 80 percent of its food. Along the way, they came across several concerns.

Haykus researched Knox’s beef, which the college calls local because it comes from a farm 30 miles from Galesburg. However, Haykus found that the farm was actually a facility that processes meat from cows raised thousands of miles away.

“Knox is basically saying things are local, but people aren’t doing their research,” she said.

In addition to the issue of where food comes from, food bought through Waugh has often been grown with antibiotics or hormones and treated with pesticides. These findings inspired the students to search for another way to get food for Knox.

What they found was Bon Appétit, a food contractor that provides seasonal, fresh and often local ingredients for colleges and other customers while promoting sustainable practices.

“It gets more organic stuff, but it also has the flexibility to get local stuff, and it has a really good reputation with networking with smaller farms across the country,” Galloway-Carson said.

Bon Appétit pledges that at least 20 percent of its food will be local, meaning that it will have originated within 150 miles of campus. If a desired food cannot be found locally, the company will seek out organic and fair trade providers from around the country.

“They have people called foragers, and it’s their full-time job to go out and find food in little pockets across the heartland,” Galloway-Carson said.

Other perks of Bon Appétit include seasonal menus, portion sizes based on student eating habits and donations of uneaten food to local charities.

“It’ll taste better, be healthier and be more sustainable,” Galloway-Carson said of Bon Appétit.

As part of their research, the students traveled to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., which recently adopted Bon Appétit. Overall, students at Lawrence were pleased with the increase in food quality and variety.

“There were fresh scones, fresh muffins, paninis with fresh tomatoes … they don’t use genetically modified anything,” Haykus said.

The visit to Lawrence also helped address concerns that had arisen about changing food providers: namely, the effects on workers and the cost of the contract. Knox currently has a food budget of $4.1 million per year; at Lawrence, the budget is $3.9 million, even though the student population there is slightly larger.

“We only want this if the price of board does not go up above what it already goes up every year,” Haykus said. “However, in all the research we’ve done, it seems like it would not be an issue.”

As for the retention of Knox’s current dining services workers, Haykus, who has spoken with the workers’ union, does not foresee this being a problem.

“Bon Appétit is very used to working with unions and signing … union contracts,” she said. “We’re committed to making sure everyone is retained.”

In order to garner student support for Bon Appétit, the students circulated a petition to spread the word about the possibility of changing food providers. Currently, they have about 500 signatures expressing approval for seeking a bid from Bon Appétit.

“Bon Appétit just basically has to come in and show us their vision, after looking at the Galesburg and Knox communities, of how much it would cost and if they could work with us,” Haykus said.

The students’ current goal is to get a bid from Bon Appétit next year so that the company could potentially come to campus permanently in the 2012-2013 school year. Although student support is high and Student Senate recently unanimously approved seeking a bid, Haykus and the others will have to talk to college administrators before moving forward.

“A lot of people I talk to say … we already get things from local growers,” Haykus said. “We’re not just talking about five things; we’re talking about 20 percent of our food, which is a huge chunk.”

“Bon Appétit … has the networks and resources to get what we want,” Galloway-Carson added.

Those interested in learning more about Bon Appétit are encouraged to attend a presentation on Friday, May 27 at 1:30 p.m. in the Round Room of the Ford Center for the Fine Arts.

Anna Meier

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