It was a raucous Saturday at Rastall dining hall, during my first-ever brunch, when I picked up a trifold pamphlet from the table and read aloud, “At least 20 percent of ingredients are sourced from small farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food crafters within 150 miles.” My heart skipped a beat. Rastall seemed like a food geek’s dream—Bon Appétit, Colorado College’s food service provider, claimed to support fair trade, cook seasonally, and source humanely. A chalkboard outside listed all the local farms that (I presumed) provided the produce that lined the counters. I turned to look at a poster on the wall, an image of a cheesemonger with his arms full of the artisanal products he had obviously so lovingly crafted just steps from our campus.
But I had been naive to believe that this marketing indicated a true moral commitment and that this corporation could uphold ethical values without pressure from consumers. To be clear, I still hold the same values that I did when I arrived at CC: that food should be sourced sustainably, ethically, and locally. But the illusion that Bon Appétit upheld those values evaporated when I was invited to tour the Rastall kitchen with Randy Kruse, general manager of Bon Appétit at CC.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light of the storage room, I blinked, wondering why the crates of local produce I had imagined failed to materialize. In their stead, I saw boxes labeled “Del Monte” and “Kraft,” companies that outsource their labor to developing countries, mow down protected wetlands, and spray their crops with toxic chemical pesticides—companies that privilege profit over people.
I asked Kruse about the boxes, and he explained that Bon Appétit aimed to purchase 20 percent of their food locally. But it’s really more like 12 percent on average, he said, particularly in the winter when there’s not much fresh food available from farms in Colorado Springs. I was disappointed, but slightly mollified. It was just the climate here, after all. What could Bon Appétit hope to do about that?
In order to figure that out, I joined Real Food Challenge (RFC), a national organization that has pushed campus dining services all over the country to source more of their food “locally, ecologically, fairly, and humanely”—criteria that collectively make up what RFC calls “real food.” By giving us access to Bon Appétit’s invoices, this would at least let us determine how many of CC’s claims about its food purchasing were true.
That meant a lot of paperwork. I roped the rest of the student-led CC Food Coalition into spending almost a year sifting through eight weeks of Bon Appétit’s invoices, writing down every item that had been purchased and whether or not it qualified as “real food.” Meanwhile, we spoke with local farmers and ranchers about their experiences with Bon Appétit. We learned that while many had once considered Bon Appétit their biggest contract, their sales to the company had dropped to almost zero. Cattle rancher Mike Callicrate was livid to learn that Rastall still advertised its beef as “Callicrate Beef.” Since 2015, he’s lost over 90 percent of the sales he had been making to Bon Appétit, around the same time his company made a large investment in Peak to Plains Food Distributing. This was established, according to Callicrate, “to improve the region’s ability to deliver what Bon Appétit said they wanted: high quality, local food.”
Additionally, a member of Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, a coalition of farms south of Colorado Springs, told us that Bon Appétit used to be one of their biggest customers, but over the last couple of years, Bon Appétit’s purchasing has dropped off. The supply is there, but Bon Appétit is not buying. Clearly, Bon Appétit’s drop in local purchasing is not attributable to the short Colorado growing season.
This anecdotal evidence was reinforced by the findings of the RFC study: only seven percent of the food that Bon Appétit provided was ecological, two percent was fair trade, one percent was humane, and only six percent was local—down from 12 percent local food three years ago. The total of “Real Food B,” defined as food that met one of the above criterion, came to 10 percent, while “Real Food A,” food that met at least two criteria, totaled only two percent.
We later learned that our auditing process was going to conveniently coincide with Bon Appétit’s contract expiration and the ensuing renegotiation in the spring of 2018. The results of the RFC study convinced us that Bon Appétit could do better, and the contract renegotiation was a chance to make that happen. We wanted Bon Appétit to live up to its commitment to sourcing locally, humanely, ecologically, and fairly. We also wanted to make changes to a meal plan that was far too expensive.
Many colleges, of course, have much worse dining services than those at CC. So it may come off as entitlement to rage against a system that allows you to swipe a magical card, enter a cafeteria full of hot gourmet food and out-of-season fruits, and eat literally as much as you can put into your body. Never before has such a level of convenient eating been not only possible, but also normal. But this new normal, while certainly luxurious, conceals a world of inequity—a world that hurts both food growers and students themselves.
The CC Admissions Office touts the quality and sustainability of Bon Appétit’s service in its pamphlets, and boasts about it on tours. It’s fair to brag about the food’s appeal; no one wants to eat soggy tater tots for four years, as college students did a few decades back.
The increase in the caliber of food is part of a broader trend in the economics of higher education, in which colleges are providing more (and more expensive) resources in order to stay competitive. In “The Dismal Science,” published in Cipher in September 2016, Nathan Davis ‘18 reported that $1.05 million of Colorado College’s 2016-2017 budget increase went to raising what the school termed “quality.” It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what CC means by “quality,” but it appears to mean anything that would make an 18-year-old pick CC over schools like Oberlin, Vassar, Pomona, or Smith. It is thanks to “quality” that CC students can share the luxurious experience of waiting in line for fresh-rolled, real-crab sushi, or of entering a brand-new $24 million library where a fully functional one stood only two years prior, or of skiing down a campus hill on snow trucked in from faraway mountains.
Sometimes what the school calls “quality” truly improves students’ lives—like the six free sessions at the Counseling Center, which fulfill a real need for affordable access to mental health resources. But there is a difference between “educating the whole person” (the long-held aim of a liberal arts education) and luxury in excess. “Quality” has increasingly come to signify the comfort and safety of a gated-community-meets-summer-camp. It is not, for the most part, what students need to study, succeed, and live—40 years ago, soggy tater tots were the norm. But in an extremely competitive higher education market, ramping up superfluous school amenities is apparently the only way that middle-of-the-pack liberal arts colleges can successfully stand out.
So the college’s food service has become a tool that adds apparent value to the student experience at CC. It makes CC competitive with similar institutions that have expensive and undeniably delicious food, and it works—countless prospective students have ambled around Rastall, making their decision to attend CC in part because of what they eat for lunch. But what they don’t see—at least at first—is that this “quality” comes at a price. Aside from the monetary cost, we’re sacrificing food sovereignty and food security.
“Food sovereignty” is a term coined by Via Campesina, a grassroots organization that advocates for farmworkers’ rights. Food sovereignty is the notion that farmers and buyers, rather than corporations, should control the mechanisms of food distribution. Because food sovereignty is hardly ever implemented in the global food system, lobbying power goes to big corporations that are rarely good stewards of land and community. Centralization may drive food prices down, but the cost is absorbed in externalities like unemployment in rural communities, suicide rates among farmers that are twice as high as those of veterans, excessive greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, migrant farmworker enslavement, and chemical pesticides that cause birth defects, cancer, and neurological disorders. What we do not pay at the counter (or the dining hall) somebody else pays in poor health, sublegal wages, unemployment, and the disastrous effects of climate change.
A vision of food sovereignty therefore includes the right to healthy, ecologically produced, pesticide-free food that also accords with the eater’s cultural identity. Although almost no one has access to this kind of food on a regular basis because of the near-ubiquity of industrialized food production, the global corporate food system systematically deprives some individuals of this access to food. According to the anti-hunger organization Feeding America, one in eight Americans are food insecure, meaning they are often forced to choose between spending their money on food or spending it on other necessities, like utilities, medical care, housing, and education. Those who experience food insecurity are thus constrained to purchase food that supports exploitative corporations and does not uphold food sovereignty, in a vicious cycle that maintains the status quo of the global food system.
“Food equity” combines these two issues of food sovereignty and food security into the demand that all people have equitable access to healthy, sustainable food. Food equity is not achieved when food access means nothing but access to cheap, highly processed items produced by unethical and unsustainable practices. Food equity is only achieved when both growers and eaters are treated with respect and dignity.
This is why convenient access to luxury food items and lukewarm commitment to ethical standards are not enough to achieve food equity on campus. If a vision of food sovereignty includes placing economic power into the hands of local food producers and farmworkers, CC and Bon Appétit have failed. Bon Appétit’s contract stipulates that 20 percent of all food be purchased locally; the website claims (based on a previous RFC audit) that 12 percent of food is currently purchased locally. But, according to the new RFC audit, only six percent of its food was purchased locally during the 2016-2017 academic year.
These figures don’t seem to matter when you’re putting “fresh” pineapple (available at Rastall breakfast every morning) into your mouth. But that pineapple on the brunch bar in January likely came refrigerated across the Pacific from Hawaii or the Philippines. Dole Food Company is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world. We can’t say for sure whether or not Bon Appétit sources from Dole, but this company is a telling example of the practices of many multinational food corporations, and its poor human rights track record illustrates that college students eating pineapple in Colorado are, in some way, implicated in global food insecurity. The International Labor Rights Forum reported in 2009 that Dole has a history of paying poverty-level wages to its workers across East Asia and South and Central America, union-busting (including bankrolling the alleged murder of 1,000 Colombian organizers), and exposing its workers to hazardous chemicals. Dole frequently uses DBCP, a carcinogenic pesticide, which can cause birth defects when inhaled by farmworkers or running into the groundwater of local ecosystems and the drinking water of residents. In 2012, Dole was sued for purchasing 290 million pounds of bananas from an environmentally destructive supplier in Guatemala—a supplier Dole knew had poisoned water sources with pesticides and destroyed wetlands after damming a local river.
All this is not to say you should feel guilty for enjoying pineapple at Rastall. The fact is, it’s incredibly difficult to source pineapple ethically. But it is possible to source other produce ethically—we’d just have to part with tropical fruit. Even in winter, when the hundreds of farms along Colorado’s Front Range and Eastern Plains end their growing season, there are farms within U.S. borders to the south and west of us that grow produce all winter long—farms that have been certified organic and fair trade.
Of course, Dole will continue its exploitation whether Bon Appétit buys its pineapple or not—Dole is only a small part of a problem of intractable scale. Most corporations are complicit in this kind of exploitation, because their behavior is determined by a profit-based bottom line more than any other factor.
But Bon Appétit purports to be a different kind of company. And to be fair, it is different. It is the gold standard in the college food service industry. According to its website, it was the first large food service company to commit to a transition to local sourcing, and it was the first to start buying Seafood Watch-certified sustainable seafood, humanely-raised ground beef, and cage-free eggs. Bon Appétit has also partnered with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmers’ union in Florida. But its self-reported resume is longer than its list of genuine achievements. The story Bon Appétit tells is incomplete, and its purchasing practices—even if and when Bon Appétit follows its own standards—do not go far enough to ensure equity for the people who grow our food. At the end of the day, it is a corporation, accountable to Compass, its parent company, the biggest multinational food service provider in whole world. The ethics of food sourcing will always come second to financial gain for corporations that need to maximize profit, and it should come as no surprise that Bon Appétit is no exception.
It might seem fair to argue that even if CC is supporting exploitative food policies, at least all CC students have enough food to eat, and so the question of food security on campus is largely irrelevant. But this is not true. Although it is hard to know exactly how many students experience food insecurity at CC without CC-specific data, there are indicators that many students likely do.
Colorado College’s meal plan is extraordinarily expensive. At a cost of $2,418 per semester on Meal Plan C, the minimum required for all students living in dorms or small houses, food costs for students amount to $151 per week. The USDA’s recommended spending for a “thrifty” 22-year-old male is $43.40 per week. So Meal Plan C is more than three times the baseline price of groceries in the U.S., and it only buys students two meals a day.
Financial aid appears to cover the burdensome cost of the meal plan. But even though CC claims to meet 100 percent of financial need, almost all aid awards include loans. In fact, 31 percent of CC’s student body in 2016-2017 was taking out federal student loans, at a maximum of $27,000 for a four-year plan. These loans are often applied to the student’s living expenses, meaning that students are borrowing money in order to pay for the school’s meal plan—money they might not otherwise need to borrow if they were allowed to spend less than $2,418 per semester on food.
And it’s not easy to opt out for reasons of financial insecurity. With the exception of the Synergy House, all campus housing requires students to be on some form of the meal plan. And all CC students must live on campus for their first three years at the college, with few exceptions. Meal plan exemptions are currently granted to students by Bon Appétit’s managers, and require proof of medical or religious dietary restrictions that cannot be accommodated realistically by the food service. Financial considerations are not made, nor are considerations for cultural, ideological, or mental health reasons. It’s no wonder that Bon Appétit makes exemptions so difficult to access, because of course Bon Appétit wants to boost its profit by keeping as many students on the meal plan as possible.
Students on financial aid are mostly likely to be food insecure. A 2016 report by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness surveyed students at 26 four-year institutions to determine the prevalence of both occasional experiences of food insecurity (defined as “lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food”) and “very low” food security that qualifies these students as “hungry.” Forty-eight percent of respondents had experienced some level of food insecurity within the past 30 days, while 22 percent of students experienced very low food insecurity. The percentages are higher for first-generation students, students on financial aid and African-American students. Most surprisingly, having a meal plan requirement does not abate food insecurity. In the same sample of 26 institutions, 43 percent of meal plan enrollees experienced food insecurity within the last 30 days.
This statistic, though not specific to CC, can best be understood when you consider that Meal Plan C only covers two Rastall meals a day. Finding the money for a third meal requires dipping into discretionary funding, which can be hard or impossible for students and families with little to spare. The stress of finding funds for a third meal can also contribute to unhealthy binge-eating at Rastall as students try to get their money’s worth and fill up for the day. Furthermore, the closest supermarket is Safeway, at 1.6 miles away, putting our campus squarely in the middle of a food desert (as defined by the USDA), and making access difficult for students without cars. So while the meal plan—as it exists—is not sufficient to eradicate food insecurity, simply eliminating the meal plan would leave financially insecure students without food access.
Though it’s hard to say exactly why meal plan prices are so high, we know that the prices are not the result of increased commitment to local or sustainable foods. The school’s meal plan was actually cheaper back in 2013, when Bon Appétit was purchasing twice the quantity of local food as it does now. Some claim that the higher cost of food stems from Bon Appétit’s commitment to paying a living wage to its employees. But it’s been 10 years since it signed on to that commitment to raise wages, and prices have been going up continually since then. So although we don’t know what exactly caused the increase in price, we do know that it’s not because Bon Appétit is purchasing more local food. In general, the excessive cost of the meal plan appears to be coming from somewhere else.
Instead of sustainable, local, or ethically-sourced foods, the source of the high cost may be the abundance of luxury food items available through the food service. According to the results of the RFC, more than a quarter of food purchased by Bon Appétit was snack food, not including beverages. These snack foods—dozens of varieties of chips, high-end gummy bears, frozen burritos—are more expensive and less healthy than whole ingredients, as they require further processing and often carry an inflated price tag due to branding. Plus, Bon Appétit buys an enormous variety of high-end snacks—different kinds for Benji’s, Local Goods (known colloquially as the C-store), the Preserve, and Susie B’s. By purchasing hundreds of different kinds and flavors of snacks, Bon Appétit loses the opportunity to receive discounts for buying in bulk.
While pound-for-pound, local, ethical, and sustainable produce, dairy, and meat is admittedly more expensive than produce, dairy, and meat from a factory farm, Bon Appétit could choose to prioritize better sourcing for primary ingredients over buying 16 different flavors of Noosa yogurt. This is where the key difference between quality and equity comes into play. While having access to a panoply of options may attract students to the college initially, luxury snack items (even though they may be organic) do little to serve food equity on or off campus. Snack foods are not what nourish students’ bodies; it is the whole foods, the ingredients that go into Rastall dining hall, that provide the bulk of students’ daily calories. A commitment to food equity demands prioritizing access to healthy, sustainable, ethical meals. When Bon Appétit purchases Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies (even though they may be delicious and more sustainable than Goldfish), it is still feeding dollars into corporations rather than hard-pressed local farmers. Pursuing the current elusive definition of quality by providing seemingly limitless choice has led to mere luxury at the expense of equity.
It’s hard to know where to place the blame for these problems, because no single entity or person decided that the pursuit of “quality” would lead to this mess. Is it a result of CC’s competition and marketing strategy, or of Bon Appétit’s profit model? Both are likely at play, but either way, the renegotiation of the contract was a chance for students who cared about food equity to interact directly with both entities in an attempt to question the existing thinking about how to run a school food system—in other words, for students to redefine quality on their own terms.
Armed with the results of the new RFC audit and a critical perspective on Bon Appétit and CC’s alliance, we turned to college administrators. We expected them to be indignant, as we were, or at least to express some surprise at our findings. We hoped they might even consider replacing Bon Appétit with an in-house food service. But we began to realize that the fight we were waging amounted to throwing pebbles at the windows of the ivory tower. It might be enough to make a little noise, but all the school had to do was plug its ears.
So we turned our attention toward reforms that Bon Appétit and the administration could enact. We wanted to propose a food service model that would accord with the values of food sovereignty and uphold food security. We thought we could marry these two ideals. Food equity is, after all, about justice at all levels of the food chain.
The solutions we proposed in a campus-wide petition, which we later brought to the Bon Appétit renegotiation committee, included practices that could help the college move toward food equity by improving accountability, accessibility, autonomy, and sustainability. In order to increase accountability, we asked for a shorter contract period and weekly meetings between a committee of students and Bon Appétit’s staff. To move toward real sustainability, we petitioned Bon Appétit to commit to more sustainable, local, and ethical ingredients, without increasing the cost of the meal plan. To give students more autonomy, we asked that meal plan exemptions be decided based on looser standards that would allow students to opt out of the meal plan for health, financial, cultural, religious, and ideological reasons—in essence, treating students as competent adults capable of deciding where, when, and what they want eat. We also asked that decision-making power about those exemptions be transferred from Bon Appétit to an independent staff member or faculty agency. These are all relatively simple changes that leave the general structure of food service at Colorado College in place. A larger change we suggested was the addition of a diversity of alternative dining options including co-ops, wholesale buying clubs, and a campus grocery store.
Food co-ops often include a shared living space, shared financial responsibility for food, and fairly-distributed cooking responsibilities. Food co-ops teach students how to purchase the food that accords with their values of food equity and their budgets, allowing for greater food sovereignty both short-term and long-term. Plus, because students in food co-ops are not only eating but also cooking together, co-ops foster community just as well as, if not better than, CC dining halls. Students who do not live in the co-op could also buy into meals, allowing them access to home-cooked food at a cheaper rate than Rastall. The food co-op model has been highly successful at other college campuses. Oberlin College is a particularly good example: a small liberal arts school also serviced by Bon Appétit, Oberlin operates dozens of food co-ops.
Wholesale buying clubs, which are groups of people who place collective bulk food ordeWWrs, could serve students in food co-ops, apartments, and dorm Living Learning Communities in order to offset the admittedly higher cost of purchasing with food sovereignty in mind. This is a model that could work either on or off the meal plan: buying clubs could be organized groups of students, but could also be routed through Bon Appétit’s own bulk ordering process. Since Bon Appétit already orders large quantities of food at wholesale prices, it wouldn’t be difficult to tack on the buying club’s orders, providing students with ingredients at below-retail prices. Buying clubs could also work with community supported agriculture (CSA), which allows for bulk buying of local produce, eggs, and even meat delivered to your doorstep in large quantities from local producers.
For those who don’t want to buy wholesale, or have sparser ingredient needs, we proposed that C-store be transformed into an on-campus grocery store to serve students both on and off the meal plan. Currently, whole ingredients for cooking are not always available at C-store, and when they are, they are often sold with exorbitant markups. We suggested replacing some percentage of the chips, wafer cookies, and fruit snacks available through C-store with whole ingredients like flour, produce, eggs, grains, protein, and spices, at prices reflective of Bon Appétit’s own bulk discounts. Transforming C-store in this way would both increase students’ autonomy to cook for themselves and provide a grocery retail outlet for off-campus students living in a food desert.
These solutions, while far from perfect, would begin to fulfill a vision of food sovereignty that students can get behind, one that just might improve the school’s “quality” while creating opportunities for students to gain autonomy over their food system.
Notably, we have not included a plan to reduce the price of the meal plan. While it would have been ideal to reduce costs for all students, we don’t actually know the breakdown of where Bon Appétit is spending its funds. (The RFC audit only gave us access to food purchasing, but not the budget as a whole.) This meant that we weren’t able to suggest the most effective places to cut costs, so we focused instead on what we knew Bon Appétit could do: give students alternatives and the ability to choose.
We believe that food equity is a value that should stand on its own, without needing overwhelming student support to be upheld. But we knew that even if CC wasn’t convinced by values alone, the college understands the importance of image. In order to get administrators on our side—for them to really listen—we had to prove that the student body agreed with us on these issues.
Many students who enter CC enamored with Bon Appétit’s lavish services fall out of love with them at some point. After publishing the results of the RFC study in the Catalyst and in flyers around campus, we sent out a petition. The petition, signed by 450 students, staff members, faculty, and alumni, detailed our proposed solutions. “Every time we purchase industrial food,” signers agreed, “we support this system of injustice [that] ... contributes to global climate change, to the exploitation of black and brown bodies through migrant and prison labor, and to neoliberal economic policies that limit the development and potential of the Global South.”
Even with widespread support, the administration hesitated to engage with our ideas. Although we were initially told that we would have the opportunity to join the committee in charge of the Bon Appétit contract renegotiation, a few weeks later we were informed that the committee had already been formed. Shocked that the process had been executed so quietly, we protested, but were told that it was too late to add new members. The committee did not include any of the students who had been so closely involved in the audit and in conversations with Bon Appétit. At best, it was a surprising oversight; at worst, a deliberate exclusion of those with a clear demand to reform the campus food system and the college’s relationship with Bon Appétit.
In some recognition of our work, the contract committee invited us to give a presentation in early January. We showed them the audit results, presented the demands of our petition, and outlined the key principles of food equity and how each of our petition demands aligned with them. Our key point was that affordability and values did not have to be mutually exclusive. With over a quarter of Bon Appétit’s budget spent on snack food items, there is plenty of room to trade out another variety of nut butter in the C-store for more ethically sourced produce, grains, and meat in our dining halls.
The committee was receptive and encouraging. It seemed like they supported our petition and wanted to fully understand our proposals—they asked questions for nearly an hour. But the survey they sent out to the student body afterward did not reflect the understanding of food equity that we had hoped to convey. It did request student input on co-ops, wholesale buying clubs, cooking classes, and on-campus grocery access. But it asked these questions on the last page after a long section on the operating hours of the current dining services. And to our frustration, it misleadingly asked students to prioritize either taste, cost, or quality, as if only one could exist within the college’s food system.
This language of the question represented the heart of the problem around food equity: quality food is perceived as a luxury item, a privilege, an arrogant mark of elitism, rather than as a right. It’s true that because of the realities of today’s global food market, fresh, good, healthy food is often more expensive than conventionally grown food. But right now Bon Appétit’s food service has the price tag of a locally sourced, ethically sound diet, without actually being locally sourced or ethical.
The core of our proposal was a call for good food at a fair price for farmers and students—and for students to have more autonomy over that food. Thus, this vision of food equity isn’t elitist; it’s the opposite. We did not gloss over this point in our presentation to the committee; this point was our presentation to the committee.
It is not hard for students to be heard by this school’s administration. Plenty of administrators at the college truly wanted to listen to our ideas and took time out of their day to invite us into their homes and offices. The problem is that “listening” and “dialogue” lose all meaning if you don’t actually take different voices into account in decision-making. By the time the voices of the many students who supported the petition’s goals reached the ears of those in charge of the renegotiation, the message had already been diluted. It felt like playing a giant game of telephone wherein the administrators on the far end got to decide the fate of the students and farmers on the other. What looks like a system that allows students’ voices to be heard and incorporated into systemic change is mostly an illusion.
At the end of Block Five, the contract committee provided a written set of recommendations to Vice President of Finance Robert Moore and Dean of Students Mike Edmonds, who will now draft the contract language and enter negotiations with Bon Appétit. Of course, whether these administrators will listen to the students, faculty, and staff who have expressed their support for food equity is ultimately beyond our control. If they do, it will involve a major redefinition of “quality,” that ambiguously defined extra 1.05 million dollars that dictate enrollment, donations, supposedly, and the failure or success of a school. Whether “quality” means luxury or equity is—like so many things—out of our hands.
That’s not to say that wading through all that bureaucracy was fruitless. Since we’ve started this work, the local farmers we’ve spoken to have seen their sales to CC rising once more. Kruse is reportedly looking into the possibility of instituting a small garden next to Benji’s in collaboration with the CC Farm, which would supplement Rastall produce. Callicrate told us that Bon Appétit has now placed a new order for his meat (although, he noted, that the order is still far less than he’s capable of providing to CC).
But in the absence of our direct participation in the negotiation process, we can’t know for sure what influence we have had, or whether the impacts we already see will last if structural change is not made. A firmer commitment to food equity at CC certainly would transform our food services, but perhaps even more importantly, a firmer commitment to equity in general would transform the way that processes like these happen in the future. Such a commitment would have given students a say in what “quality” means to begin with—and how much they would be willing to pay for it. If there is a lesson from our experience that transcends the issue of food equity, it is this: getting Colorado College to represent the demands of its student body requires persistence, the persuasive clout of many students, and an enormous time commitment.
Being at an institution of higher learning, we are in a unique position in the food system. While most change in the marketplace requires that consumers “vote with their dollar,” the contractual relationship between CC and Bon Appétit gives the college enormous power to influence the kinds of food Bon Appétit is purchasing and how it offers that food to students. After our long effort to convince CC to wield this power more wisely, we’ve realized that currently, students have minimal ability to enact the values of food equity. It might seem that students must simply be louder, angrier, and more persistent to achieve change. But we have gotten loud; we have been angry, and we have persisted—only to achieve marginal change. For significant change to happen, the college must give students access to real decision-making power. Although the administration is well-intentioned, the lack of student influence has left the college deeply misguided. We need to transform our administration from an opaque bureaucracy into a student-powered, democratic entity. What would this school look like if students and faculty led the way?