The process to replace Trent University’s food service contract is gathering steam; however, the administration is continuing to examine the possibility of granting Aramark Canada a one year contract extension, while it continues to mull over potential food service amendments to incorporate into its upcoming Request For Proposals (RFP).
Aramark’s current contract, which was scheduled to end in 2013 has drawn continuous criticism from students and community members for its length and exclusivity. The fifteen year contract, which began in 1997, granted the corporation a near-monopoly over campus food outlets and university catering.
Currently the only non-Aramark food outlets are the Seasoned Spoon co-operative, The Ceilie (run by Trent Conference Services), the Planet North in the Athletic Complex and Traill College’s The Trend.
All four college cafeterias, the snack bars in the DNA building and Gzowski College, and the Bata Library Tim Horton’s are under Aramark’s purview. The potential extension would mean that any new contract could not come into effect until 2014.
Nona Robinson, Trent’s Vice-President of Student Affairs, says that the reasoning behind the contract extension has to do with the administration needing more time to probe the various issues with the current food service arrangement and devise alternatives.
“We could have hurried to an RFP this fall,” she stated in an email interview, “but we wouldn’t have had [an] opportunity to really dig into these different issues and come up with options that suit the Trent community.”
Robinson specified that meal plan structures, outlet types, food sourcing and nutrition are among the issues that the administration’s Food Planning Committee will be examining before beginning to draft the RFP in the new year.
However, the decision to extend the Aramark contract for an extra year is not sitting well with some student groups. Speaking to Arthur editor Sara Ostrowska earlier this semester, TCSA President Brea Hutchinson pointed out that “[Trent has] had twelve years as a university to prepare for the day Aramark [is] no longer here.” She also mused: “Let’s see if the university, getting an extra twelve months, gets much done with that…”
The proposed extension of the Aramark contract is not the only aspect of the process sparking concern among the student groups. At a meeting of the recently struck Student Food Committee, delegates representing notable groups raised questions about the administration’s commitment to meaningfully engage with the student population on the food service issue.
Paola Hernández, the Volunteer Coordinator with the Peterborough branch of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, expressed skepticism that the administration will take student opinion into account.
She noted that OPIRG compiled an extensive list of recommendations early in 2012 which received a lukewarm response from the Office of Student Affairs. Hernández says that the lines of communication, which was strong last year between the OSA and OPIRG, have since deteriorated.
Responding to the question of student involvement in the contract process, Nona Robinson was quick to reassure that student opinion will be given weight within the discussion. She explained that there are three student representatives on the Committee, representing both the TCSA and the college Cabinets, and that if students wanted to comment directly on food issues they could email her at email@example.com or speak to their elected student representatives.
In terms of organized forums and consultations, Robinson acknowledged that there have been no actual dates set, but said that the Committee would “be providing opportunities for students and other members of the Trent community to have input, particularly on any proposed changes.”
Robinson also hinted at the possibility of having an online discussion opportunity in addition to traditional consultations.
One other issue that has been raising red flags within the Trent community is the administration’s reluctance to release the fsStrategy report to the community. The $60,000 report, which was commissioned by the administration in 2011 to evaluate the current food service arrangement and propose recommendations, has been in the possession of university administrators for at least five months, university documents show.
Still, Nona Robinson says that there is still no definite date on when the report will be released, only that “the Food Planning Committee has started meeting and is discussing how to release the report.”
Although Robinson praised the fsStrategy report as a “very useful resource” providing “an extensive and helpful analysis of the current food services situation,” student leaders have offered a differing view. TCSA President Brea Hutchinson told Arthur that upon receiving the report, university administrators were actually dissatisfied.
The fsStrategy report is not the only appraisal of the current food service to have been done recently. Student groups have also been very active on this front with the TCSA’s “Raw Deal” campaign recently earning widespread praise from student groups and administrators.
The union’s “Raw Deal” report includes a list of twelve recommendations, and a petition has been circulated for student and community members to sign in support of the document.
OPIRG-Peterborough has also pledged to circulate its own “Trent University Food Policy Proposal,” which includes a set of ten recommendations and is based upon the Dalhousie University report “Sustainability, Situation Analysis and Policy Recommendations.”
In the meantime, the Student Food Committee is hosting two open-forums on university food service in the coming weeks.
The first will be held in the Ceilie Pub on Thursday, November 15 at 3:00pm while the second will be held in the Champlain Living Learning Commons on Tuesday, November 20 at 11:00am. All students and Trent community members are invited to attend.