“Fresh Food” at Rodney little more than marketing strategy
Despite the stereotypes, most students prefer to survive on food other than milkshakes and Chik-fil-A alone. An alternative to the quick-order, convenience meals served on campus, especially in the student centers, is often necessary—and so explains students’ attraction to the Mentors’ Circle farmers market and the new Caesar Rodney Dining Hall.
Rodney serves under a new brand at the university known as “The Fresh Food Company,” but, much like the university’s farmers market, it represents a new marketing strategy of the same dining provider, Aramark.
The food served at the Caesar Rodney Dining Hall is not any different from the other dining halls on campus, Ryan Boyer, district marketing manager for dining services, said. The recipes across campus are consistent, as are the ingredients.
“The Rodney Dining Fresh Food Company simply allows for a different style of service and presentation of the items,” Boyer said. “The flexibility we have to prepare, cook and serve food directly in front of our customers invokes the idea of ‘fresh.’”
Aramark’s goal for the university is to source as much food as possible locally and from the surrounding 250-mile radius of campus, Boyer said, but this depends on the seasonality of the ingredients, particularly produce.
According to senior Chelsea Brennan, student manager at Russell Dining Hall, Aramark gets the the university’s produce from the New Jersey-based company J. Ambrogi, which receives its produce from farms in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. By ‘fresh food,’ Brennan said, the company means most of the food is not frozen (aside from the meats).
Environmental humanities and journalism professor McKay Jenkins said most people intuitively think the word “fresh” implies the food was picked both recently and locally, which may or may not be true. Relying on a corporation to feed students is not helping our community realize the power of our own local farms to provide us with a portion of our food, Jenkins said.
“The word ‘fresh’ is really just a marketing term,” he said. “Like all marketing terms, it is intended to make people feel good about what they are buying.”
The university’s dining services has marketed itself similarly in the past—a Sept. 2013 story in The Review revealed that the farmers market in Mentors’ Circle, which typically boasts “locally grown produce” is owned by Aramark. According to the article, many of the vendors came from states like Virginia, New Jersey and even North Carolina.
If local farmers work to sell their food in the farmers market, they could not simply set up a stand.
“The farmers market is run through Aramark right now…” Brennan said. “So [you] can’t do that unless you set up a contract with Aramark or one of Aramark’s produce vendors.”
Jenkins said having a contract with a company that won’t let local farmers feed local people seems “absurd.”
“To me, we should be encouraging local farmers to grow food for our students, not putting up barriers to them,” he said in an email message. “UD is missing out on a great potential marketing opportunity. There are plenty of other schools—Yale, Maryland—that have committed themselves to local food producers. We could join that trend and get out on the front edge of a very positive and exciting movement.”
Margaret McNamara contributed reporting to this article.