Tomato ban respectable, despite lack of input
As the tomato ban is finally broken by the coming harvest season, we can rejoice, both at the wondrous fruit’s return and at the prospect of waning our coverage on this high-interest topic. But before we conclusively turn the page on the great tomato embargo of 2009-10, we’d like to ask you to reflect on how it’s affected you.
First: has it really affected you? Leaving aside libertarian grumblings that a corporation has no right to deny you access to such a rich source of antioxidants, did the ban give you any palpable distress beyond inconvenience? We’re guessing not, and not just because you could still get tomatoes at Subway. We’re also guessing that, like most of the students we’ve talked to about the ban, you were fine with going tomato-less once you found out why Bon Appétit was instituting it (if you still don’t know, check back issues of Student Life, where it is discussed at length). This raises an interesting question: Would you be willing to do it again?
It is unlikely that the conditions for the Floridian tomato pickers will dramatically improve before fall. Further, is it likely that a company as publicly conscientious as Bon Appétit will institute a similar ban if the situation seemed to warrant it. But if Bon Appétit decided to reintrouce the ban in September, the company would only have our support if it is able to more effectively communicate the moral message behind the ban to its customers.
Within these very pages, we contended that the ban had some unsavory aspects. Chief among them was the peremptory nature in which the ban was handed down. While we recognize that a large multi-institutional caterer like Bon Appétit cannot be expected to poll every one of its clients’ student bodies before proceeding with such a ban, the fact remains that the good this ban was intended to achieve was done without the consent of the student body. You yourself feel the effects of this decision today; you may feel relief that the ban is over, but certainly not pride. It is for this reason that we judge the tomato ban to be only a partial success. If Bon Appétit decided to enact this again next September, here are some suggetions to ensure that such a ban is a complete success.
First, try to at least build buy-in consensus within the student body for the measure. Second, and more importantly, try to educate people about the plight of the group your food boycott is intended to relieve. While Bon Appétit goes to great pains to educate us about the ethical and moral implications of its standard cuisine, it failed to educate the student body about the tomato ban. For instance, their commitments to sustainable fishing and local farming are well-publicized around campus through placards, table cards and even sponsored events. But in the case of the tomato ban, it fell to the student body to investigate the ban for itself. This was, at the least, a missed opportunity. At a campus as tacitly liberal as this one, efforts of education and consensus would likely have strengthened the aims of the ban in the first place: to involve consumers in the ethics of what they consume.
Had Bon Appétit made the run up to the ban a showcase for worker’s rights, the ban might have become a popular measure, rather than something to swallow.
Such concerns stem from the strange relationship that consumers have with companies that try to make conscientious profits, and for their efforts, Bon Appétit is to be praised. We can’t help but hope that the next time the company flexes its muscles, its consumers won’t be so secondary to the process.