Coming to USF from Missouri, I was ecstatic about my new way of life. I have been a vegetarian since I was 14, which did make Midwest life more challenging; I was faced with white-hot judgment and very few places I could go out to eat at. I was way past ready to leave and arrive somewhere where they not only respected my commitment, but also took part in sharing it with me.

On my campus, I was surprised to be met with not many more options than I had at home. USF employs Bon Appetit as their cafeteria and catering provider.  Before my arrival, I looked at their bright, colorful, and fresh web page, getting my hopes up. The feeling that I have, standing in the cafeteria, my eyes seemingly going in circles, changing direction immediately after it lands on an undesired option, is not the same feeling I had looking at their website. I struggle with eating patterns and habits naturally, and when the stress and bustle of school are added, it activates those bad habits. It is hard for me to eat enough here. Other USF students have this struggle as well, the ones who eat meat, in addition to the ones who don’t consume any animal products at all.

Bon Appetit is a widely used and liked company. They commit to sustainable sourcing and consumer transparency. However, for a few reasons, they are not performing to the best of the company’s ability here at USF. The disappointment with the cafeteria is widely discussed among the student body; answers and change are repeatedly pleaded for.

I have three titles that have provided me insight into this matter: USF Sustainability Specialist, Environmental Studies major, and USF student.

From my work in the Sustainability Office on campus, I have learned that there remains room for improvement in the sustainability sector. First, there is the problem of waste contamination due to supplier issues. Bon Appetit stated their switch to fully compostable materials years ago, however non-compostable materials are often received at USF, without any warning or knowledge to their staff or my office. When inquired about this, they explain that they are not always notified themselves from the distributor they source from. To me, a company that boasts sustainability, I would hope this would be of concern. To USF, they are charged for compost and for the contamination of it. I urge my institution to invest time into switching to reusable to-go containers. From what I’ve seen for the past year and a half at USF, the majority of meals are put in a to-go box. Students are on the move which means they want to-go boxes. This also means that drop-off stations posted around campus would be well utilized. I believe our campus to be the right size for a modern project like this. USF would be one of the pioneering schools to make this sustainability switch, along with Vanderbilt and Carleton College.

For more detail on function and feasibility see: 

Doing Something Right: Students drive Carleton’s switch to reusable containers – News – Carleton College 

Campus Dining introduces new reusable to-go program | FutureVU: Sustainability | Vanderbilt University

American University Introduces Reusable To-Go Containers in Campus Dining | American University, Washington, D.C.

Secondly, I wish to draw attention to our meal plan. The students of USF have been demanding for a way to transfer Flexi, as some students use less than others and wish for it to help others eat, and not to just be profit, since it was received by the institution for food. Some students at USF have access to off-campus food, while others do not. There should be a way for us, the students of a Jesuit institution, to share with one another. Last semester, Fall ‘22, the school took away the ability to enter a student ID number when paying for meals. I believe this to be an attempt at stopping unpermitted usage of others’ numbers, but what it actually did was make it incredibly hard for those who need help to get help. The campus has a history of people coined ‘Flexi Fairies’ who are students that give those in need their Flexi number so that they can eat, but now that can no longer happen. I, and many of my peers, push for more focus on this issue. No one at our school should go hungry. And when there is word that there are hungry kids, USF should want to step in and do everything they can to fix it.

Details on strategy and success are found here.

Third, I would like to draw attention to the empty station in our cafeteria, located on the main campus, in the southeast corner. It is a great space to have more options for our students, as I know campus dining can get monotonous. An idea I propose is to allow our on-campus food pantry to distribute food there. Currently, the food pantry provides its services from our library atrium, and a lot of people aren’t aware they go on. At the very least, it is a great opportunity to provide more options, especially to those who have dietary restrictions and are asking for help.

Compostable food containers pile on top of a compost bin.

Photo Credit: Rachel Steurer, August 2021

Fourth, I would like to talk about portion sizes at our cafeteria. The servings are very generous, and while some of our USF students rejoice at the amount of food they are given, for others portions are too large and result in food waste. I know that size options would be appreciated by our students so that they could save money and not have to pay full price, because our cafeteria prices can get high, leading to the issue of running out of Flexi. Additionally, offering portion sizes would help prevent food waste, which saves USF money and follows their commitment to reducing waste here on campus. I have seen the compost overflowing with waste, and something needs to be done.

USF sits in the heart of San Francisco, a city known for its ingenuity and intense care. It is a Jesuit institution that promotes intense care as well. Change takes time, energy, and investment, but I urge USF to see and hear their students, who are asking for help, and I urge them to put students over profit, humans over convenience, and live up to the great name that is San Francisco.