Dining implements changes in response to student groups’ demands

By DEREK MORITZ | November 14, 2019

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COURTESY OF RUDY MALCOM

After Real Food’s campaign, Dining will review its contracts with PepsiCo.

This March, Real Food Hopkins, a student organization promoting food justice and sustainability, launched the Pour Out Pepsi campaign. According to Real Food Co-President Katie Smith, PepsiCo has a history of violating human rights, labor laws and sustainability regulations. The group aimed to convince Hopkins Dining to end its exclusivity contract with PepsiCo, which requires that 80 percent of all beverages sold on campus — not just soft drinks — are manufactured by PepsiCo.

Real Food met with Dining earlier this month to discuss the state of the contract, which was up for renewal in June. Senior Manager of Dining Programs Ian Magowan explained in an email to The News-Letter that Dining has not yet signed a new contract and is conducting an internal review of the terms and conditions set by PepsiCo. 

In response to other demands that Real Food made, Magowan wrote, Dining is currently implementing a reusable water bottle program in which bottles will be sold at Levering Hall and Charles Street Market for a reduced price to encourage use. 

“We will also be moving away from utilizing plastic bags at our retail dining locations in favor of new reusable and paper bags. Both initiatives are scheduled to kick off at the beginning of the spring semester,” Magowan wrote. “We have worked, in partnership with Pepsi, to address all of the requests presented by the students.”

Smith stated that Real Food is now demanding that Dining reduce the percentage of PepsiCo products it is required to purchase to 60 percent.

“Having 80 percent Pepsi stops us from being able to have local beverages, or honestly even giving students the choice if they wanted Coke. Ideologically if you’re looking at our dependence on Pepsi — we’re a public health institution, yet we’re dependent on a Big Soda company, which is ironic,” she said.

The arrangement, Smith continued, goes beyond the scope of beverages. She told The News-Letter this spring that PepsiCo has donated $2 million to the University over the past seven years in exchange for exclusivity rights. 

Smith added that Real Food; Take Back the Tap; Compassion, Awareness, and Responsible Eating (CARE); and other student groups outlined their concerns in a letter to Dining this May. Take Back the Tap is a coalition of students, researchers and staff that seeks to limit the University’s consumption of bottled water. CARE is an animal activist student group that promotes plant-based living.

“We listed five demands, which loosely were to shorten the contract... because you want students to be able to have a say in the contract and not be bound into something that they don’t know, [and] to make the contract available to everyone,” Smith said. 

Dining reviewed the groups’ demands, Smith said, during a phone call this summer. 

According to Smith, Dining will try to shorten the contract from four years to three with two one-year extensions, as well as make talking points from the contracts accessible in order to foster transparency. Smith added that Dining will likely be unable to make the entire contract accessible due to reasons of privacy.

CARE member Lais Santoro, who supports the Pour Out Pepsi movement, criticized PepsiCo’s sustainability issues. A report from April 2017 found that PepsiCo knowingly imports palm oil from ecologically destructive plantations in Indonesia. Underpaid children, as young as 13, harvest oil in these plantations. 

“Pepsi has many humanitarian problems,” Santoro said. “They admit that they do slash-and-burn practices to take palm oil, and it’s just a very destructive practice. Part of CARE’s whole perspective is sustainability and promoting a style of life and eating that goes along with that.”

According to Magowan, the contract review process has given Dining the opportunity to push for more sustainable programming, which he believes will also better support Athletics. He noted how the University has invested in local businesses such as Thread Coffee and Taharka Brothers Ice Cream.

“Identifying areas of improvement in dining will introduce opportunities to seek out new local partners to support. We welcome the opportunity to work with students to help us identify and develop relationships with these new partners,” he wrote. “Support of local beverage producers has been — and will remain — a primary focus of any contract. The current contract allows us to allocate a designated amount of shelf space to provide local-based beverages.”

Smith proposed Maine Root Beverages as an alternative. She said that the brand ethically sources sugar cane. 

She expressed concerns about future beverage distribution, though Magowan noted that the current exception rate of 20 percent is among the highest in the university market. 

“They weren’t sure about reducing the percentage of Pepsi because their worry is filling the space on the shelves,” she said. “One of the next steps we want to take is surveying the student body to see what they actually want and how much soda they’re actually drinking and what products they would want to see, because you could potentially just have less shelf space or find potential alternatives.”

Smith added that Real Food and other student groups hope that Dining will reduce plastic waste from the beverages PepsiCo provides Athletics by using larger volume bottles. 

Smith noted the PepsiCo Foundation donated $1 million to the construction of the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center in 1996. In March, Associate Athletic Director Ernie Larossa explained that Athletics’ partnership provides funding for intramurals, club sports and athletics. 

Sophomore Tim Carlson, a pole vaulter, commented on the nature of the relationship between PepsiCo and Hopkins Athletics.

“I think it’s positive if it brings in revenue, and I don’t see a problem with it personally,” Carlson said.

Despite these benefits, Smith believes that the contract is antithetical to other Hopkins initiatives that seek to promote sustainability and local products. 

Sophomore Joseph Du, a Public Health major, viewed the contracts differently, noting that PepsiCo offers many beverages.

“PepsiCo offers a wide variety of healthy alternatives to their sodas,” Du said. “They also have water [and] their sports drinks line.”

Santoro believes that while Hopkins Dining has been responsive to the demands put out by Real Food Hopkins, PepsiCo’s rules have made it more difficult for all of their demands to be put into action, including the demand for the public release of the contract.

Smith hopes that Dining will finalize the new contract by the end of the month. She believes that ending the exclusivity contract will allow maximum choice in beverage selection for Hopkins students.

“We’re not trying to take away people’s choices on campus. The idea is to still have these things without wholeheartedly supporting a company and being bound to this weird, not-so-reciprocal contract,” she said. “We think this is an interesting opportunity for more people to know what’s happening.”

Similarly, Santoro urged students to remember what they put into their bodies and to stay informed about the University’s beverage selection.

“Educate yourself and be more aware as an individual,” she said. “When you go get a drink, are you going to go for Pepsi, or are you going to try to switch to a more sustainable option?”

Athletics could not respond to request for comment by press time.

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