Like it or not, students had no say on tomato ban
Two weeks ago, Bon Appétit announced that it would stop serving tomato wedges and slices on campus. This policy change was enacted due to an agreement that Bon Appétit’s national management signed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which represents tomato pickers in Florida. Since the tomato ban was announced, students have commented—both in these editorial pages and elsewhere—about its righteousness and efficacy.
We feel that the dialogue sparked by the ban raises broader questions about having Bon Appétit as the sole food provider (with the exception of Subway) for which undergraduates can use their meal points. One of the primary complaints voiced by upset students is that the decision—though supported since its inception by Students for Fair Trade and others whose politics align with it—did not take into account students’ viewpoints. But how could it? After all, Bon Appétit serves more than 400 locations in 29 states. Wash. U. students form a minuscule portion of its customers. Though Dining Services has been incredibly responsive to student input this year, there is no way for students to influence national Bon Appétit policy.
It’s worth noting that the ban is public by design: Bon Appétit has built into its brand an ethos of environmental responsibility and social consciousness, from its local “Farm to Fork” initiative to its adoption of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines for sustainable seafood. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a powerful alliance that has previously won concessions from Taco Bell and McDonald’s, and Bon Appétit’s support of the CIW—whatever its implications for fair trade—represents an immense public relations victory. And—at least on this campus—the tomato ban is only a minor risk, since students often don’t have the option of not eating Bon Appétit food.
There are numerous issues of fair trade and employee rights involved in the provenance of almost every food—especially those we import—and tomatoes represent only a small aspect of the larger questions involving food and social justice. The burden for deciding which foods are socially just to eat still largely lies with the consumer. For example, many consider eating meat to be socially unjust due to the state of factory farms in America, but a Bon Appétit ban on serving meat is hardly feasible, especially as the company is the food provider for an entire campus.
Not eating tomatoes, though, isn’t a lifestyle change in the way that vegetarianism is, and given that grape tomatoes are still available, the ban’s implementation might not rankle you—in fact, you may even support its ideals. Student Union, for its part, symbolically passed a resolution praising Bon Appétit for its decision to “only purchase tomatoes from providers who meet this standard of fair conduct regarding workers.” To the extent that such a resolution reflects the greater opinion of students, SU is right to pass it.
What we eat forms a big part of our lives, and the diets of students who have mandatory meal plans are necessarily centered on Bon Appétit offerings. Ideally, we’d have a choice whether or not to support this ban, in the form of purchasing power. Were we able to spend our meal points at any of the many eateries around campus besides Subway, we’d be able to opt into or out of this policy as we personally saw fit. Such a de-monopolization of meal points has been achieved by several of our peer institutions, and perhaps it’s time for our University to consider rethinking its policy. And while we are well aware that no such decision will be enacted with Bon Appétit’s contract still in place, we lament that we have no say in such issues, regardless.