Around two years ago, members of the Incarceration to Education Coalition at NYU staged a 155-hour long strike in order to protest NYU’s relationship with Aramark, a food-service provider. The protest occurred in response to a discriminatory meal, as well as poor inspection results. In late 2017, the New York City Department of Health found rat droppings in Lipton Dining Hall, one of NYU’s main dining halls. The dining hall earned an abysmal “C” rating from the Department of Health, causing concern among the student population.
The following year, during Black History Month, Aramark chose to serve a meal that centered itself on historically offensive stereotypes against African Americans. In light of these incidents, as well as many other alarming allegations surrounding Aramark, members of the Incarceration to Education Coalition began a petition asking NYU to end its relationship with the shady food service provider. However, when these efforts fell on deaf ears, the organization took to peaceful protests.
After a week of protesting, NYU agreed to meet some of the IEC’s demands, and more than a year later, NYU completely cut ties with Aramark. Now, students at NYU haven’t been the only ones in recent years to call into question their universities’ affiliations with Aramark. University students all over the world, including American University, Fordham University and Trinity College, have called upon their universities’ leaders to cut ties with Aramark.
Evidently, all of these protests and public outcries could not possibly have come solely from isolated events. Aramark as a corporation has an extremely questionable past, to say the very least. During the protest at NYU, members of the IEC cited Aramark’s treatment of prisoners asanother compelling reason to break away from the food service provider.
Aramark is responsible for providing meals to more than 500 correctional facilities, making it one of the largest food service providers involved in the corrections industry. However, the corporate giant has numerous allegations of maggots and rocks being found in prisoners’ meals, drug trafficking and sexual harassment. There has even been documented evidence that some Michigan prisoners were served food taken out of a trash can.
According to Siddique Abdullah Hasan, an inmate at Ohio State Penitentiary, Aramark provided cold meals that were only half the serving size required. In some of the grievances aired by NYU’s IEC, the serving portions were said to be “inadequate for even a five-year-old child.”
As outrageous as it seems, the lack of healthy and humane meals is only a small part of Aramark’s unsavory history. In fact, in 2015, Michael Young, a Michigan-based Aramark supervisor, was found guilty of being involved in an assault-for-hire plot. More recently, in September 2019, an Aramark employee at Whatcom county jail in Washington was arrested for smuggling drugs into the facility. Only two months later, another Aramark employee was arrested for smuggling various contraband into the facility. Despite all of these instances of horrific neglect, Karen Cutler, an Aramark spokesperson, had the nerve to claim “[Aramark’s] dedication to quality and service have made [Aramark] a leader in [the] industry for more than 75 years.”
But really, the issue isn’t about any of these isolated events. It’s not about the maggots, it’s not about the rat droppings at NYU and it’s not even about the smuggling. The real issue with Aramark is their role in the privatization of prisons. All of these allegations are disgusting by-products of privatization. To reduce costs, many state prison systems choose to contract out to private companies. These companies have a vested interest in keeping prisons full and operating at full capacity. The purpose has shifted away from rehabilitation and correctional approaches and become a business model for how many people can be kept locked up and for how long.
For companies like Aramark, all they care about is the bottom line. Nothing keeps them from prioritizing how much money they can make, and that is exactly what they do. Not to mention, correctional facilities house the perfect consumer: a consumer with no choice. As David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union says, “If a prisoner doesn’t like the food, he can’t just go somewhere else and put the company out of business.”
Companies like Aramark see the prison system as an untouched gold mine, ready for exploitation. Through backhanded campaigning and questionable political deals, these companies keep prominent politicians in their back pocket, making it incredibly easy for them to take advantage of those in correctional facilities. While it’s easy to discuss the damage companies like Aramark cause on an abstract level, it becomes increasingly more pressing to deal with when we realize how closely intertwined we are as Drexel students.
Around four years ago, Drexel University began a partnership with Aramark as our food service provider. So many other universities have recognized that partnering with Aramark is essentially standing in solidarity with the inhumane ideals that govern these organizations. As students, it is our responsibility to call into question whether the university is reflecting what the student body believes. So many colleges and universities before us have already been successful in ending this partnership and I don’t see why we can’t follow in their footsteps. We must ask ourselves what we believe and what the consequences of our actions are. Cutting ties with Aramark is a long-needed change that we simply cannot turn a blind eye to.