Law and medical schools consider tomato-free eating

| Managing Editor

The campus-wide tomato ban has taken another unexpected turn at Washington University after the Aramark Corporation offered to discontinue the sale of tomatoes on campus but lost backing from Students for Fair Trade.

After the Bon Appétit Management Company signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in November, Students for Fair Trade had been pressuring Aramark—which operates the eateries at the Washington University School of Law and School of Medicine—to sign a similar agreement to ensure that all tomatoes on campus came from growers who offered workers living wages and safe working conditions.

“Getting tomatoes banned was not actually our original goal; we wanted Aramark as a corporation to sign an agreement with the CIW so that they wouldn’t have to ban tomatoes and could instead buy ethically produced ones,” Jessica Goldkind, the former president of Students for Fair Trade, wrote in an e-mail.

Goldkind led the tomato ban effort and helped produce a petition signed by more than 180 individuals calling for Aramark to discontinue tomato sales. Goldkind was assisted by Geeti Mahajan, a graduate student at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work.

Dena McGeorge, regional manager for Aramark, received the petition and then met with Students for Fair Trade. McGeorge offered to discontinue tomato sales on campus until Aramark signed on with the CIW, and an offer was originally accepted.

“At first we thought that would be good, which is why word spread about that…but then we talked to the leaders of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, who explained that a local ban could be bad for their long-term strategy,” Goldkind added in the e-mail.

Aramark corporate headquarters claimed no involvement in the discussions with Students for Fair Trade and was unaware that any offer was made to discontinue tomatoes.

Though Aramark has not signed an agreement with the CIW, Aramark Communications Director Karen Cutler stressed that the company and its distribution partners attempt to contract with growers whose practices meet applicable workplace laws and regulations whenever possible.

The food service giant also has agreed to the “penny per pound” premium, in which 1 cent goes directly to the workers for every pound of tomatoes purchased. But Cutler acknowledged in writing that “it is widely known that the money accumulated over the past few years has largely been held in escrow and that the Farm Workers have not received these funds.”

Now that each campus eatery has established its policy on tomato sales, Students for Fair Trade is focusing on raising public awareness about the plight of tomato pickers.

“We’re just trying to work on raising awareness about different ways in which our consumer power as a university impacts the world, so now I think we’re going to focus more on the consciousness-raising aspect of it,” said senior Jessica Werley, the current president of Students for Fair Trade.

Students for Fair Trade hopes to host a roundtable discussion in February to continue the tomato dialogue on campus.

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