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Just Food Committee presents final report at BUCC meeting

Report responds to ethical concerns over U. food purchasing practices, food supply chains

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Just Food Committee was created in 2019 to assess University policies on food purchasing and the supply chains of food consumed on campus.

Student and staff members of the Just Food Committee presented their final report on how the University can improve its food purchasing and food supply chains at the Brown University Community Council meeting Wednesday. 

The committee was founded in 2019 when student leaders of the Brown Ethical Sourcing Initiative approached BUCC regarding concerns over the University’s purchasing habits and the supply chains of food consumed on campus. The committee has been working to assess University policies, and offered recommendations regarding more ethical food sourcing practices.

Provost Richard Locke P’18, who serves as the chair of the committee, opened the presentation by outlining the core principles that guided its work. These principles included embracing shared governance, amplifying the University’s mission and values, being transparent and promoting greater awareness of the University’s efforts in ethical purchasing.

“Brown University is a purpose-driven organization with a very clear mission and very strong values,” Locke said. “We wanted to make sure that the work of this committee reinforced that.”

The committee was also dedicated to data-driven analysis and worked with Brown Dining Services and its partners, including the food service provider Bon Appétit, to look at the University’s large categories of food purchasing and the ethical principles that could be applied to each category, Locke said.

Using Bon Appétit’s guidelines on advanced local sourcing and increased labor justice in the food industry, the committee developed seven recommendations. These include tracking University spending with greater intensity, developing clear vendor guidelines, developing a method for purchasing based on just labor practices, enhancing communication and transparency of purchasing practices, incorporating food-purchasing policies and practices into the University’s sustainability plan, establishing student intern positions in BDS and developing a multi-year plan to accomplish these priorities.

Committee members placed special emphasis on increased communication with the student body, suggesting that BDS create an online dashboard displaying categories of food offered at the University, how much is spent in each category and where specific foods come from.

Collaboration with “minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and veteran-owned businesses” with high standards for human rights and environmental protections is a priority of the committee, said committee member Camila Rice-Aguilar ’21.

“Brown as an institution has a real opportunity and power to move markets, and we hope that by Brown and BDS taking meaningful action in this space, our community members will engage more with these issues or vendors will pay more attention to their labor and sustainability practices,” said committee member Tenaya McCoy ’21. “Our peer institutions might even follow our lead.”

Jessie Curran, assistant director of wellness and nutrition, then explained how BDS has already begun evolving to meet these recommendations.

BDS “was really an early adopter of the local food movement,” Curran said. “We’ve always had strong relationships with New England farmers and producers, (and) with our strong ties to Farm Fresh Rhode Island, we’ve been able to build a strong foundation of our local sourcing program.”

Over the past few years, BDS has begun using cage-free eggs and fair trade coffee and tea, composting and working with small, local vendors through the Farm to Fork program, Curran added. BDS has also implemented a Food Recovery Network-verified program.

In response to the committee’s recommendations, BDS finalized its food sourcing standards in collaboration with the wellness and sustainability committees to “translate out the commitments that we say we have into what our actual purchasing practices are,” Curran said. They have also hired two students to serve as food sourcing student associates and created a social media intern position to help engage the community.

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