A small but burgeoning protest on campus is being raised against Bon Appétit’s use of olive pomace oil in its food preparation. On Nov. 24, Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Dining Committee member Angus McLean ’16 raised the issue the presence of pomace oil’s at the salad dressing table at the committee’s meeting.
Olive pomace oil is a relative of extra virgin olive oil that has been processed using high temperatures and solvents, usually hexane. Students became aware of the potential issue when the extra virgin olive oil that was usually present at the salad dressing table was replaced with olive pomace oil in October.
Students raised their concerns about this issue, citing studies done by the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. These studies indicate that many brands of olive pomace contain potentially harmful levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic. The quality of the oil is a result of the refining process that the manufacturer uses and the relative temperatures in these different processes.
Wesleyan Executive Chef Brian Dagnall noted that the reputability of Marconi, the pomace oil brand, would suggest that these toxins are found in low quantities in oil that Bon Appétit uses.
“You would probably have to drink two cups a day, every day of your life [for it to have harmful effects],” said Resident District Manager at Wesleyan for Bon Appétit Michael Strumpf.
Although McLean said that Strumpf contested the validity of the health concerns raised by this oil, he characterized Bon Appétit’s response as responsible. Within several days of this meeting, the extra virgin olive oil had been returned to the dressing table.
McLean’s concern lies more with the extent of the use of the oil and with the lack of transparency in oil use.
“I didn’t realize they use it in practically everything,” he stated.
Some students suspect that Bon Appétit uses pomace oil because it is a less expensive product than other types of olive oil. However, both Dagnall and Strumpf assure that cost concerns are not a factor in the decision to cook using pomace oil.
Dagnall argues that pomace oil is similar in nutritional value, retaining many of the beneficial properties of extra virgin olive oil. It is also a solution to the concerns raised by mixed oils, which may contain canola oil and be dangerous to students with nut allergies. He described pomace oil as a less expensive alternative to olive oil, explaining that pomace oil has many of the properties of olive oil without the strong flavor that may not be desired in a given dish.
Just how extensive is the use of olive pomace oil? Dagnall says it is used extensively at the Classics station, and it is used in Mongolian Grill due to the high-temperature cooking and the need to use oil with a high smoke point. Other oils, such as vegetable and canola, are used in deep frying and salad dressings.
Mackenzie Schlosser ’16 noted the confusion about where in Usdan the pomace oil is used.
“They should at the very least label [it],”she said.
Since the Nov. 24 WSA meeting, posted menu signs have indicated which products contain pomace oil, though not consistently; for instance, the Mongolian Grill section is not labeled.
Although Bon Appétit has begun to label the use of pomace oil, Schlosser was also frustrated about the students’ lack of choice in the situation, especially in light of Bon Appétit’s positive reputation on campus. She also noted that she recognizes that, like any cafeteria, Bon Appétit offers several unhealthy food options, but was concerned with the pervasive use of the pomace oil.
“Wesleyan food is known for being healthy, so it’s their job to watch out for this,” she said.
Casey Downey ’16 took a more skeptical view of the issue, stating that he still had not seen enough information about the potential risks to form an opinion.
“If I knew it had significant health risks, then I would avoid it if it were labeled,” he said.
Although Strumpf and Dagnall noted that they do not consider the use of olive pomace oil as cause for alarm, they stated that they encourage suggestions and are open to addressing student concerns.
“We take the food very seriously, and we take the student’s concerns very seriously,” Strumpf stated.