Ever wonder where the food you’re eating is coming from? Well, I have, which is one reason I recently sat down to talk to Andrew Castellon, the head of Chartwells at Pace University in Pleasantville, and Tyrone Ellen, the head of Chartwells for the New York City campus. Chartwells is the food service for all the Pace University campuses, and hundreds of others across the country.
My prime question was who supplies the food? It turns out, not surprisingly, that there are many, many steps between the grilled chicken in our cafeterias and a living bird.
41,000,000 chickens every week
Mr. Castellon explained that our main food supplier, Performance Food Group, uses a host of sources. Chicken comes from Tyson, the world’s second biggest processor of poultry and meat — including 41,000,000 chickens every week (yes, 41 million). Tyson’s chickens almost all come from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Tyson’s CAFOs in the past have been linked to air pollution problems. A recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof describes more of the back story behind our cheap chicken, as laid out in a new book on Tyson, “The Meat Racket.”
While speaking to Mr. Castellon I found out that Chartwells is a division of Compass Group North America and that they are split into two units, K-12 and higher education. I was told that Compass Group inspects all suppliers before it buys their food products. But Mr. Castellon said he couldn’t be specific about other issues, such as policies related to the treatment of livestock and poultry.
In my meeting in New York City with Mr. Ellen, I asked if Chartwells requires its suppliers to treat animals with care. At first Mr. Ellen told me that some suppliers will post that they do, but said he wasn’t sure if they all do. A few minutes later he shifted to saying he could verify if this was a requirement or not.
He said that Chartwells’s top concern is sustainability, but when asked how much of the supplied food came from CAFOs, he said that he did not know and would talk to Compass Group. (Yet more evidence that the word sustainability has little meaning on its own.)
Our goal is to work with Chartwells, not to fight them. My interviews with both Mr. Castellon and Mr. Ellen were helpful and informative.
These meetings will help our team move on to the next step of our project, boosting campus interest in developing robust standards for food quality and animal welfare.