Avanti Market: the New Friedman Café By Ashley Carter

If you are a member of the Friedman School community, you have likely heard the buzz about the most recent update to our humble café in the Jaharis building.  Avanti Market, the new convenience-type store, was installed at the beginning of October and has received a lot of attention.  The self-checkout market contains reach-in refrigerators with salads, sandwiches and drinks, a coffee station, and a variety of other chips, nuts, muffins, candy bars and snacks.  Whether or not you have purchased anything from Avanti Market, you have probably poked your head in or heard talk – both excitement and grumbling – from students and faculty. The reviews are mixed.

Some of the fresh choices at Avanti Market

One of the most frequent comments from Friedman students is that they don’t intend to use the market. “I haven’t used the café, and to be very honest, I probably won’t,” said Brandon Ransom. Many students don’t buy food from the market because they bring lunch and snacks from home, while others are discouraged by the types of foods offered. But Laura Carroll, internal co-social chair of the Friedman Student Council who serves as student representative for issues concerning the market, has seen more people taking advantage of the market. “Despite the Avanti Market being relatively new, I have seen a variety of Friedman students, faculty, staff and other people who work within the Jaharis building using it.”

Other concerns range from expensive prices for the healthier options to the fact that many of the items are packaged, processed and high in sodium and saturated fat – exactly the items that Friedman students and faculty work hard to get out of schools and businesses around the country.

Chips hover above the snack bars

Some students are more appreciative of the fact that there is an option for food beyond the vending machines that were there last year.  “I’m just happy that we have real food (and coffee!) in there now,” said Lainey Younkin. “Sure, there are some not-so-great items, but sometimes you just want chocolate, and I think that’s okay. And there are still yogurts, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, salads, and other healthy options.”

So how did we end up with Avanti Market? The full-service café that was once in that space closed two years ago, and students and administration have been working together since to find a way to offer food in Jaharis. Because many Friedman students bring meals from home and the building is not open to walk-in traffic, the old café was simply not profitable – and it was a logical decision to turn the space into a more sustainable source of food for the Friedman community.

An assortment of snacks available

However, for the past year, the Jaharis café has offered anything but the real, healthy and sustainable foods we promote at Friedman. Three vending machines with sugar-sweetened beverages and processed, packaged foods full of sodium, preservatives and saturated fat were all that were left in the café – and students did not respond well.  In a survey provided to Friedman students and other inhabitants of the Jaharis building, over half the respondents reported they were “very dissatisfied” with the food environment and 73% thought it was “very important” to have healthier foods available.

In response, students, faculty, Tufts dining services and student affairs worked to find alternative options.  Friedman students Nicole Tichenor, a member of Slow Food Tufts, and Meghan Johnson, former vice president of Community Health Advocates Tufts (CHAT), worked with the university and the Boston Public Health Commission last year to improve the options available in the vending machines – with some significant success. “We had eliminated about 98% of the sugared beverages in the vending machines,” said Tichenor.  But she followed up by noting that, since the introduction of Avanti Market, “about 98% of them are back.”

Beverages-sweetened and not-ready for purchase in the cooler

According to Mark Krumm, director of communications at the Friedman School, Avanti Market was a compromise. Corporate Chefs, the contracted vendor for the Tufts Health Sciences campus, suggested the Avanti Market as a viable alternative to the unprofitable full-service café and the limited vending machines. “We saw two key advantages – first, we could get coffee service back (something many people requested), and second, the lack of vending machines meant that different kinds of foods could be sold – as examples, the fresh salads and sandwiches and whole fruit,” Krumm said.

Over the summer, Patti Klos, director of Dining Services at Tufts, notified Johnson and Tichenor that a new market would be opened in October and asked for their input regarding options for the market. “Nicole and I went through the spreadsheets and highlighted items that were the least processed and had the fewest ingredients or artificial additives,” said Johnson.  “The new market launched and it did include some of our highlighted options, but it also included quite a lot of the items we had not recommended, such as frozen White Castle bacon cheeseburgers and sodas.”

Johnson feels frustrated that the work she and other students did last year to get sugar-sweetened beverages and heavily processed foods out of the school has been negated. “We were able to make some changes and small improvements. And now we are back to selling all kinds of processed, nutrient-void foods that go against so many things that the Friedman School stands for. This sends the wrong message to visitors and students on our campus.”

Tichenor is disappointed that students were not directly involved in the decision to install the market. While she and Johnson had participated in the initial meetings, Tichenor said that, “all of a sudden we got an email saying, ‘We found a solution! We’re putting this thing in and you can give feedback about what you think Friedman students would want in there.’”

Tichenor also feels strongly that there should be increased focus on regional and ethical sourcing of foods. “With the amount of research on and interest in local/regional food at the Friedman School, I know many of us see an opportunity to set an example with our institutional procurement.”  According to Klos, this is one of the reasons they chose Corporate Chefs. “Corporate Chefs does source local products,” said Klos. Some of the items include fresh, seasonal produce and cage-free eggs from A. Russo & Sons, local dairy products from Oakhurst Dairy in Maine, Carla’s Pasta from Windsor, CT, and organic and natural tofu and soy milk from Vitasoy in Ayer, MA.

Klos added, “They recycle, use biodegradable products, use recycled content products for napkins and disposable trays, and work with their vendors to provide a more environmentally sensitive workplace.”

No matter how you feel about the café now, don’t despair – you won’t necessarily be stuck eating Doritos and packaged muffins forever. Stacey Herman, associate dean for Student Affairs at the Friedman School, informed the school’s Town Hall meeting that the market is still in the beginning phases and that the school will continue working on making improvements.  Krumm corroborated that sentiment. “After the Town Hall meeting, where one of our students expressed her disappointment in the selections offered in the market, I went and took a second look. And I was not too happy either. We had too many foods that did not reflect the values of our students and faculty.” Despite the initial lack of healthy foods, there is reason to believe that these issues will change.  “I asked for and received some immediate changes from Corporate Chefs,” said Krumm. “And there are now fewer pre-packaged frozen meals, pastries and sugar-sweetened drinks.”  Notably, the White Castle burgers are gone.

Krumm highlighted a few other issues to consider. First, it is important to remember that Friedman students and faculty are not the only occupants of the Jaharis building.  The majority of people in the building are actually not even affiliated with the school. “We are seeking a balance between different customers’ needs,” said Krumm.  Johnson pointed out, however, that the Sackler School of Medicine student government and other inhabitants of Jaharis were included in the survey about food options in the café.

In addition, Krumm reiterated that Corporate Chefs has already been responsive to requests for change, and that he and the administration will continue an open dialogue with the vendor about improvements to the foods. He emphasized that they welcome input from students. Carroll added, “Student Council is taking a proactive role to assure that everyone is satisfied. A comment box will be available for people to leave feedback and ideas on how to improve the new market.” Input will be relayed to the Friedman School administration and the Avanti Market contact.

Ashley Carter is in the Nutrition Communication program at the Friedman School and is completing her DPD at Simmons College to become a Registered Dietitian.  She has only purchased coffee from Avanti Market and, like many students, does not intend to use it frequently.  However, she appreciates that there are options available and (shhh…) might even buy a cookie or chips sometime!

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