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Food Services looks at Fair Trade

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, November 7, 2006

A Student Senate resolution calling for Notre Dame Food Services to serve only Fair Trade coffee will probably not be realized this year, Senate Social Concerns committee chair Sheena Plamoottil said Monday.

Plamoottil and student body president Lizzi Shappell met with Director of Food Services David Prentkowski last week to discuss the feasibility of a Senate resolution that calls for all non-franchised Notre Dame Food Services locations to serve only Fair Trade coffee. At that meeting, Plamoottil sensed that “it’s not feasible” for Food Services to pursue such a far-reaching initiative.

“I don’t think [only serving Fair Trade coffee is] going to happen this year. … [Food Services] made us aware of several initiatives that they had already begun before [the resolution] had come to the table,” Plamoottil said.

Fair Trade pricing ensures that farmers are paid $1.26 per pound of coffee beans, which is enough to support a family, according to an Oct. 5 Observer article. Fair Trade coffee eliminates the middle men – like millers, exporters and importers – and allows farmers to sell their beans directly to the roaster.

Prentkowski said in an e-mail Monday that Food Services has already established a committee to address social responsibility issues. The Food Service Social Responsibility Committee’s mission is “to continuously evaluate and monitor the industry and to recommend and advise the department regarding actions and practices related to social responsibility issues.”

The committee is specifically addressing coffee from the perspective of social accountability, Prentkowski said, explaining that there are many methods of assuring a socially responsible way of coffee growing and processing without needing to only serve Fair Trade coffee.

The University has had Fair Trade coffee available at select locations on campus for more than five years. The Huddlemart, Reckers and the Jordan Hall of Science serve Fair Trade coffee exclusively, and in 2003 Fair Trade was added to several campus venues like Waddick’s in O’Shaughnessy Hall and the Café Commons in the Mendoza College of Business, among others.

But that’s not good enough for Plamoottil and Amnesty International officials – who helped draft the Senate resolution.

“This is something we thought was very important to the student body and we wanted to help facilitate some progress on the situation,” Plamoottil said.

But Prentkowski believes advances can be made without selling Fair Trade coffee exclusively. He believes Food Services must strike a balance between the interests of the people it serves and its commitment to social responsibility. North and South dining halls, for example, offer Fair Trade coffee beside flavored coffees, which are not Fair Trade-certified.

“The flavored coffees are extremely popular at this time,” Prentkowski said, “at the same time, our procurement staff is searching for socially responsible alternatives.”

Units that do not currently offer a socially responsible alternative will do so by the start of the next semester, he said.

Prentkowski explained that although the campus franchise operations are under University control, franchisers determine the menus and would thus not be required to make Fair Trade coffee available.

At least 50 percent of the coffee offered through Food Services is Fair Trade-certified, and it is up to the student, Prentkowski said, to choose whether or not to purchase Fair Trade coffee.

In hopes of convincing more students to choose Fair Trade coffee, Amnesty International and the Student Senate are directing their efforts towards educating the Notre Dame community about the issue.

Amnesty International had been raising awareness about the issue through a series of posters. The club has also been in contact with Catholic Relief Services and the United Students for Fair Trade in hopes of “getting involved in a broader sense and seeing if we want to have events that are more publicized throughout the country,” said Amnesty International secretary Gary Nijak.

Plamoottil believes changing the minds of Notre Dame students can be as simple as disseminating information.

“I wouldn’t say students are uninterested,” she said, noting that students she’s spoken with have been receptive of the goals of the project.

The problem lies in the lack of awareness, she said.

“Not many [students] are aware of exactly what [Fair Trade] is,” Plamoottil said.

A little more money for a cup of Fair Trade coffee, Nijak said, can go a long way.

“You have the ability to pay a few more cents,” he said. “It’s about making a choice to do the right thing … that’s been a huge focus of our campaign – the fact that through your simple purchase every single day you can make a choice to live a moral life.”