By Brandon Bausher
Aramark is a Philadelphia-based international corporation that provides food service, management and clothing to businesses, schools, hospitals and prisons in 22 countries throughout the world. Aramark has been affiliated with KU since 2010, and they have recently renewed their contract with the school.
Providing food at Rohrbach Library, the SUB, and South Dining Hall, generally any meal you’re getting on campus is being distributed to you via Aramark. Throughout their stint with the university, Aramark continues to display a deplorable insensitivity to many students’ and workers’ needs. Considering KU’s massive plans for renovation to the school’s current dining facilities, as well as an alteration to the school’s current meal plan program and menu come Fall 2016, a recognition of how those needs are being ignored and incentive to change inconsiderate practices is paramount.
Over 10,000 students are currently attending KU. It’s safe to say that there is a great deal of diversity in the student body when it comes to dietary preferences. Students living on campus their first year are required to purchase and use a meal plan. This year, the cost of the largest meal plan amounted to $1,759, an increase from last year.
Along with college tuition prices, as well as housing, books etc., one would expect any added costs to provide valid food options that not only encourage an inclusive college environment, but also provide nutritious options so that students may remain healthy and excel academically. In an overwhelming response from vegetarian and vegan students, it is absolutely clear that the options being provided are limited, if not harmful to students’ health. Even those who choose to eat meat are often not satisfied with the options Aramark provides.
In discussions with members of the student body, it was relayed that there is an extreme level of distress when it comes to the frequency and content of vegan and vegetarian meals. Throughout the campus, some of the only options tend to be potatoes, hummus (which is rarely replaced after lunch), green beans, corn, a veggie burger, rice and tofu. The only option that seems to be generally consistent is potatoes. On any given day, one has to hope that there is something they can eat. Even in the rare instances when those choices are provided, there are often criticisms about the quality of the food. This includes, but is not limited to, a general feeling of discomfort or sickness upon consuming the food, such as diarrhea and other stomach problems.
A lack of transparency seems to pervade Aramark’s food. Nobody seems to know what’s actually in it, or in fact, where it comes from, and Aramark does not openly provide guaranteed information.
Concerns arise not only with general health, but also with the potential of allergens in the food. This accumulated negligence often reflects poorly on the workers, when it is really Aramark who needs to be held accountable.
Along with a lack of kitchens in the dorms (or if there are kitchens, they tend to be small) further complications arise when it comes to edible options for students. One anecdote from a vegan student involves eating a can of chickpeas for dinner due to being able to afford little food off campus and not having dinner options on campus that night.
These restrictions also apply to students who, due to their religious backgrounds, are unable to consume certain products. This applies to Muslim and Jewish people being unable to eat pork, Hindus being unable to eat meat from cows, and certain foods being prohibited on certain religious holidays. By the very nature of these options not being available, students with particular dietary and religious backgrounds are being stigmatized.
It is evident that Aramark has been negligent to those who consume their products in the past. Examples range from those consuming their food in federal and state prisons, to those who are employed under the Aramark umbrella in any of their three different service areas.
In the Parnall Correctional Facility, a Michigan prison, unsanitary food practices ran amok, leading to maggots being found in prisoners’ food. Within that same week, up to 150 prisoners displayed flu like symptoms.
Aramark workers are employed via contracts, often with unfair pay practices, little to no benefits (there are no health benefits provided over winter and summer breaks), little room for advancement, rare wage increases that are often insignificant, as well as only recognizing many hourly employees who work exceptionally long days with no days off as part-time employees. Student employees are put at serious risk with extreme demands put on their time and health. This no doubt affects their academic performance.
In the past, Aramark has adamantly opposed unionization, which more often than not provides workers with greater pay and benefits, as well as more control over their work life. The Student Government Board has fortunately voted to support KU Aramark employees in their efforts to unionize.
Aramark’s contract entails an annual price increase on their products, and random “off-cycle” price increases (as long as they are notified in writing and not declined within five days) have been a staple of Aramark’s practices. This means that Aramark’s prices are set to rise.
Due to recently extended contracts, Aramark is primed to benefit the university with, as I mentioned previously, renovations to the SUB as well as South Dining Hall come 2016. But at what cost to the students? Does providing anytime dining and expanding current dining facilities to be more recreational areas really address students’ needs and requests?
Aramark is a corporation in which time and time again has shown its only wish is to maximize profits, often at the expense of many. With the fall of 2016 semester steadily approaching and discussions of menu expansion with the renovations, now is the time to make clear demands on knowing what is in the food Aramark provides and what food options will be made available so that everyone benefits.