The three largest food service companies in the US are being asked to source more products locally and from smaller businesses, and to shun suppliers with irresponsible labour practices.
The campaigners are to mount actions during the coming months to promote policy changes by the three international companies – the UK-based Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodexo, whose headquarters are in France.
Aramark, Compass and Sodexo are being addressed principally because they manage more than half the cafeterias at universities, hospitals and other institutions in the US.
The campaign is being run by the Community Coalition for Real Meals, consisting of three NGOs – the environmental group Friends of the Earth; the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, which encourages more responsible fishing; and the Real Food Challenge, a group that promotes ethical food production and supply.
The rank and file members are mainly farmers, farmworkers and fishers.
The coalition is arguing for shorter journeys from harvesting to the point of consumption so that local producers and owners of smaller businesses benefit instead of multinational corporations.
It believes this change would limit environmental damage from delivery trucks and vans, and reduce trading with the large suppliers that pay their workers and producers a sub-living wage.
Another advantage, maintains the coalition, is that independent producers have higher ethical standards than the big operators, which “rely on harmful practices such as the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers that damage our health and the environment, and market highly processed, unhealthy food”.
Specifically, the campaigners are asking the food companies to include 25 per cent of what they call “real food” in supplies to university campuses and to switch to seafood provided by local and community-based fishers.
They say that to achieve these objectives the food companies should invest at least (£760,000 (€857,000 $1m) in infrastructure to improve market access for disenfranchised producers, should purchase more from them, and should appoint liaison officers to develop relationships with them.
Julianna Fischer, a community organizer with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, said: “Each of these companies may claim to support local seafood, but our definitions of local are different.
“We are calling for five per cent of seafood company-wide to be sourced from owner-operated boats and for all production, processing and distribution to be within a 500-mile radius of the institution in which it is being consumed.”
The campaign groups may draw some hope from agreements struck by Aramark and Compass with a workers’ group to improve wages and conditions on farms in Florida eight years ago.
This year, Aramark has announced it will use more sustainable seafood, though Fischer said the company has not made clear exactly what it will purchase.
John Howell, Chief of Thought Leadership and Editorial Director, is a co-founder of 3BL Media, the parent company of Triple Pundit, begun in 2009. Howell oversees original editorial content procurement and creation. He is also the author of the weekly Brands Taking Stands Newsletter. He has written and edited for Elle, Artforum, High Times, the New York Times Magazine, and the LA Times. Howell is based in Wonalancet, NH.