From Chicken Scandal to Real Change: Visions for a Real Food Economy from University of South Florida

April 2, 2013
Teaser Image: From Chicken Scandal to Real Change...

This post is from Bonnie May Maye, Southeast Regional Field Organizer. This is the first in a series of blog posts from the Southeast Aramark Road Trip. 

A year ago, students at University of South Florida showed overwhelming support for a ballot initiative about whether the school should sign the Real Food Campus Commitment and source at least 20% Real Food on campus.  Ninety-four percent of respondents said they would support greater student voice in the health and sustainability of the food purchased by the University of South Florida's campus dining provider.  

Sadly, students' call for change was not heeded last year.  And when we arrived at USF this week, it seems those simmering discontentments had boiled over into a heated "chicken scandal" that arose from one student's experience of undercooked chicken in the cafeteria.  When a picture of the offending meat was posted online, the incident drew a huge response from students, including hundreds of likes and repostings all across social media sites -- a clear example of the type of student frustration that can take root when real change doesn't.

Taking to the road for the Southeast Aramark Road trip -- this first stop in Florida comes just one year after our first “Get Real, Aramark” day of action, when students like those at USF took action for real food on campuses across the country.  Today, however, we are celebrating Aramark’s first steps toward increased transparency at schools where students are campaigning for more real food, and traveling to support campuses where change has not yet taken place.

Our campus visit at University of South Florida included campaign planning workshops with student leaders and tabling to send postcards to the CEO of Aramark. The momentum for change was tangible and exciting, from our powerful action-mapping sessions to the passionate postcard messages that so many students signed.

USF Student leader Tulia Beckford, also a Road Trip participant, reflected, “Students seem to be realizing our own power as consumers. We want more transparency, and a real say in what we eat.”

Responding to intensifying student campaigns for Real Food across the country, Aramark dining managers at many schools have started meeting with students. And last week, Aramark released an official guide to support their dining managers to collaborate with students using the Real Food Calculator.

We applaud these steps, and want to ensure that this sort of support from Aramark truly takes root throughout the company, paving the way not just for a select few, but for real food efforts everywhere.

We are traveling through the Southeast to support visions like Tulia’s, and move from crazy chicken scandals to real and lasting change.  Here’s to a more just & sustainable food system at USF and at campuses throughout the Southeast!