Friday, May 29, 2009

Author's Note & Corrections for UCI/Aramark Post from Thursday, May 28, 2009

By Hai Vo
Fourth-year undergraduate student at UCI
hihaivo@gmail.com

The piece, An In-depth Analysis of the University of California Irvine Dining & Hospitality's Multi-million Dollar Contract with Aramark was written in February 2008 when I first was trying to understand sustainable food systems. The piece was written for a UCI Social Ecology Planning, Policy, & Design Global Sustainability I course and originally titled ("Wait. What happened five years ago?). The course introduced ideas of sustainability and its connection to politics, economics, development, and human essentials (food, water, air, housing). My course project was an interactive blog in which I defined a sustainable food system and whether or not the food system at UCI fit such a definition.

College, and education in general, is the process of discovering truth. Singer John Legend mentioned recently at the 2009 University of Pennsylvania Commencement that what we need more in this world are people who are brave enough and equipped with the resources to discover truth. In a world of economic, political, war-charged, internet, and real-estate challenges, Legend noted, I resonate with him that we need it more than ever. There are people beyond UPenn who are discovering the truth. And within the realm of discovering the truth, there are a multitude of ways to do so in the honest reciprocity of other humans who are discovering similar truths and are willing to offer their truth-finding process. Being in education, I have learned the process of being intrigued with a certain phenomena, offering a question of relevance, hypothesizing results, determining methods to test that hypothesis, providing the methods' results, discussing the validity of the methods, and offering conclusions to the question dealing with the phenomena. These conclusions change. As such, questions, methods, results, and conclusions evolve over time.

When I was writing the piece, I was seeking truth. I wanted to understand the food systems at place. I wanted to understand who was in charge of what, where things were flowing to and from what sources, what dynamics were playing out, and why things happened the way it did. I turned to the internet, to books, to articles, and to policies that I could get access to. The piece was a culmination of my research, my thoughts, and my questions.

Two challenging aspects about being in academia are validating sources and offering sound conclusions to a multitude of perspectives. It is about making an argument and offering sources that validate that argument. It is about understanding the complexity of an issue in a variety of viewpoints and learning how to formulate conclusions for further insight, inquiry, and thought. I've learned through this process that because sources change and information evolves, conclusions do as well. However, to offer more sound conclusions, these sources and data need to be transparent, open for dialogue, and peer-reviewed. My intention with the article was to bring together a variety of viewpoints, organize and reference them as they were, and offer concluding statements and further questions.

Was it fair to write that Aramark, "this single source" is "a monoculture of sorts"? Maybe not. Was it fair for me to conclude that "all the dots don’t line up right" when I referenced unjust labor practices at UCI and Duke University but recognized that Aramark was number one in its industry in 2006's Fortune list? I don't recall any harsh language in the first analysis of my piece.

I recently found out by our Aramark resident manager that the contract that I used as reference for writing was void in 2007. At the time, the contract thereafter was not available online. According to the manager, I was referencing an incorrect contract. In discovering honest truth, I should have went to the UCI Dining offices, and asked in person. I didn't. In a world of electronic referencing as more correspondence is done technologically and through the internet, I recognize the challenge of not being electronically transparent. As I move forward, I recognize the need to balance and weigh my conclusions in the world of the internet and the world of reality.

I re-read the "intriguing notes" in the contract that I referenced at the time, and I see three categories. First, I referenced points in the contract and had questions. I did so in #1 (ecological impact), #3 (financial commitment). Nothing else. No thoughts. Just questions. Secondly, I referenced points in the contract, and offered a vision for more inclusion for a sustainable food system. In #5 (training employees) and #6 (choice of pricing), I referenced the need to involve all stakeholders (employee training and student choice of price) in these visions. The last category involves writing that I am now not proud of in a piece that I intended to be sound. In point #2, in which I listed the minimum food standards, I wrote my metaphor of "night and day" to describe the current food standards and what I envisioned to be better food standards. In point #4 (eating utensils), I denounce disposible plastic eating utensils because that's my vision of a sustainable food system. My analysis of points 2 and 4 offer personal convictions and emotions. In a piece intended for sound references and conclusions, I should have left those out and offered a deeper, more evidence-based analysis. I meant academic, but I turned editorial. I wronged.

In the final part of the piece, I wrote about two other policies, the UC Food Service Policy and Aramark's Green Thread. I reference them. I end the piece with a question.

I've learned from this piece, in particular, that language is important when writing a sound, evidence-based paper. How I frame references, citations, and quotes is integral to the process of understanding and academic development. I also learned the need to balance electronic referencing with referencing in person. I do want to note that for me a student trying to understand and seek truth, information and data needs to be available and transparent for me to analyze, re-study, and examine. In an academic world in which students are referencing more online, subject matters and infrastructures that deal with student interest should be aware of such behavior. I welcome comments, feedback, and information. My intention was not to criticize people. My intention was to understand the systems and the people involved in those systems.

I have learned and grown since then. I have been and am a UCI Dining intern and fellow, understanding the challenges and opportunities with institutional food procurement and sustainability. Instead of working against, I have actively listened, discussed, and collaborated with UCI Dining staff through academic scholarship, participatory education, and inclusiveness. Labor, food standards, utensils, and ecology have been evolving discussions at UCI. UCI Dining has made some great progress in the last two years toward sustainable food practices:
  • trayless dining in residential dining halls
  • an organic salad bar in Mesa Commons
  • elimination of some polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) in residential & retail locations
  • fair trade coffee offered at Starbucks and the Cyber A Café
  • organic eggs at all dining locations
  • reusable tableware at residential dining locations
  • unbleached napkins at all residential and most retail locations
  • fair trade and organic products offered at Zot ‘n Go
  • educational events about waste reduction
  • vegetarian and vegan options at all dining locations
  • dining hall light conservation
  • donation of leftover pastries to Feeding America (formerly known as America's Second Harvest)
  • recycling at all dining locations
Students are collaborating with UCI Dining on a pilot sustainability assessment of food procurement using the Real Food Calculator, a metric devised by the Real Food Challenge. UCI Dining, in addition to over a dozen other spnosors, have worked with students to organize a spring educational series on food sustainability. The UC system is moving forward with a Sustainable Food Service Policy.

Regardless of whether an individual is a student or not, there are challenges that we face and are trying to overcome in our food system. The questions I raise in my piece were intended for open discussion, honest dialogue, and greater transparency. Behind the businesses, corporations, and institutions, there are people with abilities to communicate, listen, brainstorm, and solve those challenges. These efforts from UCI Dining staff, administrators, and students mentioned above are intended for a food sustainability. These challenges bring up questions for people to make concerted efforts toward a sustainable food system.

I resonate with John Legend's words of the world needing people to discover truth. There are people who seek truth. There are people who act. I choose to do both. Seeking truth and acting on it can invoke conflict, distress, and barriers to the systems involved. Seeking truth and acting on it can also bring people together, increase active and civil inquiry, listening, and communicating, and inspire problem-solving. I choose to do the latter.

Read the original article here:
An In-depth Analysis of the University of California Irvine Dining & Hospitality's Multi-million Dollar Contract with Aramark

1 comments:

caroline said...

very interesting!

Post a Comment

ShareThis