Kenyon’s purchases inflate costs for local residents.
Our daily cornucopia of locally-grown fruits and vegetables has long been a selling point for prospective students. We’ve heard the charming stories peddled by tour guides about our food and the ‘community’ that raised it. When surrounded by fresh, local produce, our hearts swell with righteous affirmation as if, like in a Norman Rockwell painting, these farmers somehow join us at the dinner table, where we all laugh, hold hands and say grace.
We eat it up — so much so that, as Peirce Dining Hall commemorates the ongoing effort to infuse homegrown charm into every aspect of our meal, we fail to notice its detrimental effect on the community itself.
On Sept. 15, Peirce announced on Facebook the purchase of “VERY fresh produce from the Owl Creek Auction 15 miles up the road … from local Knox county farms.” They write: “Your food dollars help the local economy everyday! This is how the Kenyon AVI food program works full circle, benefiting the students and the community!”
I’ve seen an Owl Creek Auction and can personally tell you that fun and games do not always surround the auctioneer’s soapbox. You won’t see merriment like in a Christie’s auction, where a painting gets sold and champagne corks fly. Instead, you’ll see the furrowed brows of people who depend on the auction format for low-priced food-in-bulk— people affected by each outbidding.
This little auction exists among many others in the wider region to serve the Amish community, for whom a routine trip to market on horse-and-buggy is too often an epic voyage. So when AVI Foodsystems, Kenyon’s dining service, hits the auction scene with fat stacks of tuition cash, food prices inevitably go up in the surrounding area. With our tremendous purchasing power, it’s not simply that we “help the local economy;” rather, it’s that we gradually steer that economy beyond our community’s reach. We drink their milkshake.
To offer a concurrent example, the same is true with what we’ve done to the Goodwill Store on Coshocton Avenue. Even though food and clothing are hardly the same, Goodwill, like the Owl Creek Auction, is a business at which the underprivileged may purchase basic human necessities. I was told by a cashier that our affinity for things old and tattered has driven up the cost of second-hand clothing. Though we mean no harm, underprivileged Mount Vernon residents are made to pinch pennies in the name of Kenyon’s aesthetic.
Although we may conceptually agree that Kenyon shouldn’t exploit channels of business relied upon by the underprivileged, solutions to our gentrifying require a systematic overhaul beyond my opinion piece’s capacity to outline. A fix will be neither quick nor pleasant, nor do I reasonably expect anyone to rally against a system which, is beneficial to them. But if we’re going to start somewhere, then we ought to be mindful of how Kenyon’s institutional layers filter our general perception of the community’s well-being. Don’t let pre-packaged, feel-good Facebook posts or brochure material convince you that Kenyon, in allegedly “[working] full-circle, benefitting the students and the community,” is some essential link in the great circle of life. These messages distract you from the realities of human hardship, and they assume an obnoxious posture. We can only begin to understand words like ‘empathy’ or ‘social justice’ once we cut through the purple-glossed veneer.
Alex Harrover ’17 is an English major from Houston, Texas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.