Opinion

Fighting the Wrong Battles in the Food Service Debate

WINSTON PENNINGTON-FLAX, Contributor
Keeping up with the divisive arguments surrounding the food service decision has grown more difficult every day since the presentations ended last week. Instead of analyzing everyone’s views to see the larger picture, we’ve discounted those that overused the word “corporation” as radicals, pegged those that say “sustainable” too much as hippie consumers, and reprimanded those that raised their voices for yelling.  In an attempt to bring these groups back together, I’d like to return to a buzzword that seemed to be the common thread tying together all four presentations: “Beloitish.”  No group clarified exactly what they meant in using this word, but I did get the impression that visiting companies had some trepidation in using it, as if they didn’t really know what it meant but understood that it somehow appeared in contrast to everything else they said.
What does being “Beloitish” mean to a corporation that wants to enter our stage?  It means that they’re going to have a damned difficult time meeting our needs.  We’ve got a long history of doing things our way on our terms (we have riot-proofed residence halls, for Godness sake); no static business model could encompass our current demands and flex to include our demands ten years from now.  And, I assure you, our current demands are a real pain for them.  Not only have they all bent over backwards to offer a complete re-hire of staff members, but also have all promised climbing rates of devotion to local food.  Some of them have even offered internships and positions that will help develop a stronger commitment among the student body to the things that the student body has expressed a pre-existing commitment to.
Why does this seem so strange?  Because no company can continually provide the things that we produce by our own mental labor and struggle, and especially not things like sustainable agriculture and worker’s rights that began in grassroots entrepreneurship or community activism.  A devotion to just food systems and fair labor cannot be purchased, and an image of social consciousness cannot be installed with a million-dollar capital-infused renovation.  These things are Beloitish because we’ve made them Beloitish, and if we want them to continue being that way, we’re going to have to continue to do it ourselves.
This is not to be taken as another argument for in-house management, and I can’t answer to whether we have the capacity as students to bring about these types of changes between classes, clubs, athletics and jobs. I do know that our choice between companies will not change the world, and is not even likely to radically change our school.  If we want our “collective image” to be improved, it should be by our hard work and commitment, not the brand names and logos that grace our vegan options.  Fighting so hard against the groups that support different aspects of the picture will not move any group closer to their ideal. Instead, it moves us all a step backward.
I would like to close by suggesting that we devote our energy not entirely against the campus forces that we view as negative, but also for the campus improvements that we can envision positively.  We never will, and never would have had the possibilities of sustainable food, student operated spaces, a living wage for laborers, a vanished Beloit bubble, or an ethnic studies program if we only vote politely with our dollar and sit back to watch the ball game.  The fight is not over, and greater changes are needed than those that we can get from a subscription.
So, should we hold back the abrupt questions that will challenge the people that want our money to re-examine their stance?  No.  That would be unBeloitish.  But we should keep our eyes focused on what we’re asking for and how we can work to bring it into reality while learning from those that disagree with us.

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