RFFR discusses grievances with Commons and Bon Appétit
As students began to arrive on Reed campus after spring break, they were met with bold neon signs proclaiming “STOP REED FROM REQUIRING STUDENTS TO BUY EXPENSIVE ASS ‘FOOD’” and “FIGHT UNNECESSARY OVERHEAD FEES!” A group of students calling themselves “Reed For Food Rights” (RFFR) has begun a multifaceted push to reform the way Commons works. Spearheaded by Winn Crutchfield ‘22, the group met with members of the administration and Commons managerial staff on Monday to discuss their complaints.
RFFR began as “a group of six students who were roughly able to work between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.,” according to Crutchfield. Their first action was to put up dozens of posters critical of Commons and Bon Appétit in the Gray Campus Center. While all the posters were critical of the way Reed’s board plan operates, they covered a wide variety of complaints directed at Commons, Bon Appétit, and the Reed business office. At a potluck held Sunday, April 7, the group clarified many of their aims and prepared for a meeting with Commons management and Reed administrators the next day.
On Monday, April 8, a collection of students, administrators, and representatives from Bon Appétit met for the first time to discuss RFFR’s ideas for improving Commons. The meeting started with Crutchfield reading out a list of grievances about Commons. Some grievances included the ability for students to run out of board points, the fact that the board plan is required for those living on campus, and that petitioning off is not feasible for many students, Commons’ limited hours of operation, and unclear lists of ingredients. Since the Reed Business Office oversees the board plans and sets the prices for them while Bon Appétit sets the food prices, Crutchfield called for more transparency in how students’ board plan money is spent.
The first issue addressed was that of ingredients lists. Many students with specialized diets or rare allergies find it hard to know whether the food they eat may be bad for their health or even life-threatening. Matt Talavera, the Bon Appétit General Manager for Reed College, explained that although Bon Appétit sends a general plan for a meal, they “allow our cooks to cook without a recipe” so there may be minor changes in some ingredients. However, these changes will not affect whether or not one of the major eight allergens, as defined by the FDA (wheat, soy, dairy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and egg), is present in the dish. Talavera emphasized the need for students to talk with the on-duty allergen specialist to ensure they know the complete contents of each dish. Dean of Students, Bruce Smith, echoed Talavera, saying he encourages “people with individualized problems to seek individualized solutions” and really wants students with specific needs “to feel comfortable talking to Matt [Talavera].” However, Crutchfield felt that this was an inadequate response.
The other main issue discussed was the price of the board plans, with Crutchfield explaining that “general sentiment on campus is that it is unfair that a student living on campus has to foot the bill.” Rob Tust, Associate Treasurer and Controller, was able to provide more context for the board plans and conceded that being on a board plan versus off of one are “essentially two different price points” for food. The reason for this is that the base price of the board plans (money that is not going towards the cost of food) is used to cover fixed and overhead costs. This includes things such as janitorial staff, interior and exterior maintenance, wages, utilities, and insurance. If board plans did not provide this funding, it would have to be incorporated into the price of food at Commons or tuition. After Crutchfield pushed Tust on why they couldn’t be changed quickly, Tust replied that “making structural changes to the meal plan is a big deal. It requires a lot of work and analysis to understand how the changes will impact all students, which will require time to properly analyze.” Ultimately, both parties felt that this was a good initial meeting. District Manager of Bon Appétit Ken Dale said that “[these meetings are] the start — having these conversations and understanding each other’s viewpoints.”
While the group has been met with praise by some students, others have expressed concerns with the way the group has operated. Students took issue with some of the posters that the group put up. Posters that mentioned unionization, for example, were taken down after the group faced backlash from students who felt that they might harm the job security of Commons employees. “My plan was that we would spend one whole week raising awareness and visibility,” Crutchfield explained. “Which, unfortunately, resulted in some rash decisions with posters.” Other students have expressed concern that these posters could make Commons employees feel uncomfortable when walking by them or working in an environment with them. Dale confirmed these students’ suspicions and said that it is “true” that some employees are uncomfortable and “we told them they didn’t have to engage” with students asking about the movement.
Some students have also questioned the overall aims of the movement. While a portion of the group’s rhetoric has focused on reforming the way Commons operates, some factions within the group have suggested that Reed end its relationship with Bon Appétit entirely. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed a concern that “only a worse (or no) food provider [would] be willing to pick up the contract at a school which seems unprofitable or seems to have forced out a food provider by protest.” Rob Tust confirmed on Monday, April 8 that the contract between Bon Appétit and Reed will not be up for renewal until 2021, meaning that Bon Appétit will almost certainly be here to stay for at least two more years.
Lastly, the job security of Commons employees has been a frequent point of concern for RFFR. Though Crutchfield stated that the group demands “the jobs and livelihoods of all of the working-class adults on campus” be protected, she also conceded that the group’s desire to possibly remove or replace Bon Appétit could easily interfere with that goal. “That’s a big wrench,” she admitted. “Having someone other than Bon Appétit would be amazing … but if what has to happen is that Bon Appétit stays, then okay.”
Crutchfield asks for students to share testimony about their experiences of food insecurity at Reed at bit.ly/FRFsurvey.
Another story in the Quest about students engaged on some inside-the-bubble issue. It would be great to read stories about current Reed students having an impact on the Portland community or an impact on the world. Apparently there are no such stories. What a waste of student intellect and talent.