In the March 13, 2009 issue of the Western Front (Western Washington University's student newspaper), the lead article was about Sodexo (the company that provides meals to Western) spraying trans fat oil on steamed vegetables. The reason seems to be that they sit on the steam table so long that they get dehydrated and the taste deteriorates. Not very much is sprayed, only one-fourth cup per 20 vegetable servings. Some of the oil sits on the bottom of the pan after it drips off the vegetables, and the estimate is that one-tenth tablespoon per cup of vegetables remains on the vegetables. This amounts to 12 calories, but it is 12 calories of trans fat, since the oil used, under the brand name Phase, contains hydrogenated oil. This may not seem like very much, this type of oil has been used for this purpose since 1976, and the trans fats are not listed because the hydrogenated oil is in the "recipe." As another fact, the student manager was critical of the whistle-blower who only went public because she did not get any response from Sodexo. His comment was, "Recipes don't belong to the employees. [The whistle-blower's name] shouldn't have said anything."
Let's parse this problem and see if it really is the usual corporate nonsense or a tempest in a teapot.
1) Trans fat on steamed vegetables - Yuck. Why would I want trans fat on my steamed broccoli? In most restaurants, if the vegetables on the steam table dry out or taste bad, you replace them. Why should students, who are really a captive audience, be treated worse than normal restaurant patrons? Is it because they are "just" college students?
2) Not very much is sprayed - This is true, but even a little bit of trans fat seems to have a major effect on human health and it certainly degrades the taste.
3) This has been going on since 1976 - Yes, and the Iraq War has been going on for 6 years. That doesn't mean a bad practice should be continued.
4) Ingredients in the recipe don't have to be listed - This is just "let the buyer beware" and is really unconscionable. This is the same kind of argument that China used in accepting melamine in animal feed until the international community held them accountable.
5) "Recipes don't belong to the employees." - This is just nonsense and an attempt to broaden the scope of intellectual property and copyright law.
So . . . corporate nonsense or a tempest in a teapot? I would say this particular issue rises to the level of corporate malfeasance. I suggest Sodexo stop this practice, issue a public apology to the brave student who had the nerve to go public, and open their "recipes" to an independent panel of student auditors. Who knows? There may be other egregious practices that need the light of day.