Students eating in any of Oberlin’s dining halls probably noticed the recent disappearance of fresh sliced tomatoes. This November, Campus Dining Services and Bon Appétit decided to stop buying tomatoes from Florida farms until the labor practices on these farms change.
Concern over Bon Appétit’s tomatoes began last spring after Fedele Bauccio, the CEO of the Bon Appétit Management Company, visited his tomato supplier’s farms in Florida. During his trip, Bauccio was shocked by farm workers’ low wages and exclusion from the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, depriving them of the rights to overtime pay and collective bargaining.
After Bauccio’s trip, BAMCO worked with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to create a code of conduct for Florida tomato growers. According to its agreement with the CIW, BAMCO will only serve tomatoes from farms that follow this new code of conduct, which ensures that workers have fair wages, safe working conditions and third-party monitoring to verify that standards are upheld.
“We think that it’s the right thing to do,” said Richard Panfil, Bon Appétit general manager for Oberlin. He believes BAMCO’s decision is in line with the College’s history of promoting human rights and the fair treatment of the working class. Panfil also said that BAMCO works toward investigating its food suppliers and stopping all purchases from companies with unfair labor practices.
So far, only one Florida grower, Alderman Farms, has signed the new code of conduct and as a result, only grape tomatoes are currently available in Oberlin’s dining facilities. Since Ohio’s growing season for tomatoes ends in August, the College cannot purchase local tomatoes as an alternative. Certain tomato products, such as ketchup, tomato sauce and pico de gallo, will remain available because they are made from machine-harvested tomatoes.
Currently, the College is looking for alternatives to sliced tomatoes, including sliced cucumbers and various tomato pastes made from the grape tomatoes. “We’re trying to provide as close an alternative as possible,” said Michele Gross, director of CDS.
Although CDS is willing to listen to student complaints, Gross said that students have yet to voice opposition to Bon Appétit’s tomato ban. According to DeCafé Manager Brian McHugh, students have supported this decision. “Not one person has complained. Not to me, anyway.”
Tomatoes are not the first food product Oberlin has banned. In 2004, the College banned Coca-Cola products from its dining halls. CDS is also considering a new system that would place stickers on all fruits in the dining halls and DeCafé saying where fruits come from. This, along with its low-carbon diet program, is intended to increase the student body’s awareness about the impact of its food choices.