When I came to Western last year as a wide-eyed freshman, I experienced a great array of stimuli. New people, events, classes and of course, the inescapable college eating experience.

While we are clothed, housed and fed by our parents, most don’t think about the effects of proper (or improper) nutrition on their body. Though filling your body with empty calories can produce many ill effects, one of the most noticeable trends across college campuses is the dreaded Freshman Fifteen.

This is the part where I am going to tell you a little secret, and I am going to be painfully honest. Even I, a Western middle-distance track athlete, who is also a Biology major (and knows quite a bit about nutrition), gained almost exactly fifteen pounds.

I do believe that thanks to my poor nutritional choices, you will all be thankful for my expertise in this arena, because over the next quarter, I am going to give you all of the tools so you can keep yourself healthy and happy. However, I will warn you, my precious froshlets, it isn’t going to be easy.

What if you were paying thousands of dollars a year to support for-profit prisons in America? How about paying this money to a company that has a history of discrimination? On April 4, 2000, a movement swept across the nation, as students had fully realized that the company that provided them with food service also supported for-profit prisons. Interestingly enough, this company, Sodexho Marriot, is the grandfather of the very company, Sodexho USA, which runs all of Western’s food services.

According to a May 30, 2000 analysis by Merrill Lynch, Sodexho Alliance owned 48% of Sodexho-Marriott, which provided food service to many college campuses around the nation. Sodexho Alliance is, in turn, the largest investor in prisons for profit through its 17% stake in Corrections Corporation of America.

In 2000, the “Not with Our Money!” campaign to fight Sodexho’s support of prison companies was supported by boycotts at many colleges in the US. SUNY Binghamton and Earlham College used student organization funds to divert close to 1,000 people by feeding them food outside of the meal hall. Hampshire College students organized a potluck that virtually shut down their cafeteria. In May, 800 Oberlin students sat on the lawn and ate food cooked by activists.

After close to a year of protesting, Sodexho Alliance finally decided that the investments in the prisons were “no longer in line with our strategic objectives and is in conflict with our policy.”

Though this was a mighty win for students across America, Sodexho Alliance soon bought the necessary shares to purchase Sodexho-Marriott. Soon after, the newly named Sodexho USA began investing in private prisons in the U.K and Australia.

Another stain on Sodexho’s past was brought to attention in 2001, when 2,600 African American current and former employees took the company to court. The plaintiffs cited many examples of Sodexho’s “pattern and practice” of denying African Americans promotions and advancements.

Sodexho settled soon after with an $80 million dollar payment to the workers. This was only after it looked like the plaintiffs would win the case.

Richard Macedonia, the CEO and President of Sodexho, said that “This agreement allows Sodexho to focus on continuing to build a benchmark company for diversity and inclusion,” in a Sodexho press release.

More recently, Sodexho has been revamping its image.

In August, 2005, Sodexho USA was ranked sixth in Hispanic Business magazine’s Top 40 Company for Hispanics. Hispanic Business’s Top 40 Companies measures a company’s total commitment to Hispanics in the workplace.

Sodexho has also been named a Top 25 Company for African Americans by Black Professionals Magazine and a Top 10 Company for People with Disabilities, a Top 10 Company for Supplier Diversity, and a Notable Company for Diversity by DiversityInc. Sodexho was also named one of Asian Enterprise Magazine’s Top 10 Companies for Asian Americans in 2005.

In response to obesity epidemic spreading over America, Sodexho created its Wellness Council in 2004. The Wellness Council has helped to make dramatic improvements to the overall health of Sodexho’s products.

In September of 2005, the Wellness Council announced that Sodexho would be completely banning food with trans fats in them. Trans fats are a key component in spiking LDL or “bad cholesterol.” This includes completely reevaluating the use of oils, shortening, cooking spray and butter that is found in Sodexho products.

Upper-classmen have probably seen one of the results another Wellness Council initiative in action, namely the little advisories found on the tables in the Viking Commons. They are part of the “Balance Mind, Body and Soul” program that the Wellness Council initiated.

As far as our own dining halls and what can be found in them, the general consensus is that the food is at least safe to eat, and the environment is clean.

In the trailers of the new blockbuster “Waiting,” food is given that little something extra with hocked loogies and dandruff. This made me at least wonder about the ethics of those in the food industry. “If food falls on the floor, we most definitely do not serve it,” said junior and Sodexho employee Brooks Ohlson. “As far as cleaning, it gets to the point that before and after every meal, if there’s even just a tiny food particle, it has to be gone.”

Sodexho also makes a huge point of training its employees at the Western dining halls very thoroughly. “They make us do ridiculous procedures,” said Ohlson.

Though Sodexho may have faced a very negative public image in the past, there have been many recent improvements in its business policy, as well as its efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle. It appears that we’ve all sidled up to the trough at the right time.