Author: Christine Blank
A group of U.S. non-governmental organizations have begun a nationwide campaign urging the nation’s three largest foodservice management companies to buy more local and community-based products, including seafood.
The Community Coalition for Real Meals, which includes the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), Friends of the Earth, and Real Food Challenge, say that Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodexo need to reorient their business models away from “a system of exclusive relationships with ‘Big Food’ corporations toward greater investments in real food that support producers, communities, and the environment,” according to one of the organization’s statements.
The coalition of farmers, fishers, farmworkers, and others kicked off the campaign with a march against Aramark at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, on 2 September. In the next few months, the Coalition will be holding a series of coordinated actions across the country to urge Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodexo to meet their “real food” targets within five years.
“The reality we’re facing is that the globalized seafood market leads to massive consolidation, where the average seafood travels thousands of miles from point of harvest to point-of-consumption, and is fraught with labor and environmental destruction,” said Julianna Fischer, a NAMA community organizer. ”We envision a different reality – where ecologically responsible, community-based food producers are able to feed their communities first, are paid a fair price, and those working across the food chain are afforded lives with dignity.”
Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodexo, which together manage over half of the country’s cafeterias at universities, hospitals, and other institutions, purchase billions of dollars worth of food from “multinational corporations that pay workers and producers unlivable wages,” the coalition said in a press release. “These corporations also rely on harmful practices such as the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers that damage our health and the environment, and market highly processed, unhealthy food,” it added.
The organization is urging the top three foodservice management companies to achieve 25 percent real food for every campus and shift toward seafood from local and community-based fishers.
In addition, Sodexo, Aramark, and Compass Group should also invest at least USD 1 million (EUR 863,520) in infrastructure to improve market access for disenfranchised producers, according to the Coalition. They should expand purchasing from disenfranchised farmers, fishers, and ranchers (particularly black producers), and designate a company liaison to develop these relationships, the collective argued.
“Each of these companies may claim to support local seafood, but our definitions of local are different. We are calling for five percent of seafood company-wide to be sourced from owner-operated boats and for all production, processing, and distribution to be within a 500-mile radius of the institution in which it is being consumed,” Fischer told SeafoodSource.
The coalition wants an end to the exclusive contracts that are made between foodservice management companies and large food companies, Fischer added.
“Institutions are unable to purchase local, community-based seafood because the vendors who can supply this product are not on the Preferred Vendor Lists, and local and regional dining managers must have very high compliance with this list of vendors to avoid consequences. We need to end this system of exclusive contracts and subsequent off-invoice rebates in order to allow more market access for local and community-based seafood to enter our higher education institutions.”
Aramark, Sodexo, and Compass Group also “rely heavily on eco-labels that fail to address the scale of fishing operations, something that our coalition feels strongly about addressing to bring about truly sustainable fisheries and fishing communities,” Fischer said.
Even though Aramark recently announced it would transition to using more sustainable seafood, Fischer said there is very little transparency regarding what the three big companies are purchasing in terms of seafood.
“This is not a problem specific to these companies either; the seafood supply chain is fraught with a lack of transparency, and therefore accountability,” Fischer said. “While we’ve been able to do research at specific institutions, the companies have not made this data available at the company-wide level.”
In August, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Aramark told SeafoodSource it is transitioning all its contracted salmon and shrimp products to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “Best Choice” and “Good Alternative” rankings.
While the coalition contacted Aramark, Sodexo, and Compass prior to launching the campaign, it did not receive a response, “beyond acknowledgment of receipt of our letters,” Fischer said.
Aramark and Sodexo did not respond to SeafoodSource’s request for comment, and Compass Group declined to comment.