The "Buy Local" Challenge to Institutional Foodservice Corporations in Historical Context
Public institutions such as universities and hospitals are being increasingly encouraged by social movements to direct their substantial foodservice budgets toward supporting local farmers and producers. This paper examines a key obstacle to the buy local challenge: the transnational corporations who are contracted by many public institutions in North America to provide foodservices. The institutional food sector is dominated by three large transnational foodservice corporations: Compass Group, ARAMARK, and Sodexo. It is their centralized supply chains and management structures, along with a dependence on prepared and "ready to eat" food, that are barriers to local food procurement. Up to this point, there has been little scholarly attention to the origin and organization of these corporations.
This paper's examination of the history and political economy of the institutional foodservice industry illustrates a long association between these companies and public-sector goals over the last 70 years. Comparing past public-sector goals to contemporary campaigns directed at institutional foodservice is therefore instructive. We examine three different political economies that have fostered the development of these corporations: the Second World War, the post-war era from 1945 to the 1970s, and the neoliberal era beginning in the 1970s through today. While recognizing that the barriers to local procurement are real, we also argue that the structure and competitive dynamics of these corporations offer opportunities to make positive changes.
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