Campus Notebook: You Say Tomato

Posted December 11, 2009 at 6:03pm

The vendor responsible for operating the House restaurants and cafeterias has made a big change in the way it conducts business.

[IMGCAP(1)]Restaurant Associates is participating in a new purchasing arrangement of tomatoes from Florida. Compass Group, Restaurant Associates’ parent company, announced last week that it will pay an additional 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes purchased annually, with 1 cent per pound going directly to the harvesters.

“We are proud to offer a responsible menu item like fair wage tomatoes for our dining service operations,— Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard said in a statement. “We are pleased to set an example for responsible dining choices for the staff and our visitors.—

According to CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura, the initiative came from Compass Group rather than from the House administration. “We support it, but it’s something that they’re doing,— he said.

Rick Stone, Compass Group vice president for corporate social responsibility, said the company was spurred to action by a visit from activists at the Student/Farmworker Alliance.

“The back story is quite simple,— Stone said. “Ninety-five percent of the tomatoes grown in the winter months come out of Florida. The labor to harvest the tomatoes is — for the most part — immigrant workers. Because of that situation, and the need for these workers … it sets an environment that is ripe for abuse.—

Stone added that tomato prices have increased in recent years, but wages paid to agricultural laborers have not. “The supply chain has clearly been squeezed at the bottom,— he said. Further, according to Stone, cases of outright slavery have even been discovered and prosecuted in Florida.

Still, Stone insists that customers in the House cafeterias will not see any price increases, saying that Compass Group was willing to “absorb the cost— of the new ethical purchasing agreement.

According to the CAO, the last rise in food prices in the House cafeteria came in October, when the vendor raised prices by about 10 percent.

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