Aramark, food service giant and Meredith College’s food and facilities supplier, has recently caught the attention of members of the student body, who are demanding change after learning about the company’s history. Meredith students Charlotte Allman, Class of 2021, and Alison Bunce, Class of 2022, began a petition on Change.org for students to sign, urging Meredith College to terminate their contract with Aramark. The petition states, “We are demanding that Meredith College, in Raleigh, NC, end their contract with Aramark,” and “the students and alumni of Meredith College, and the community, are calling on Meredith to do the only correct action here and cut their ties with Aramark while preserving the jobs of the Belk Dining Hall and facility services employees at Meredith College.” Currently, the petition has over 600 signatures and is directed toward College decision makers: President Jo Allen, Dean Ann Gleason, Director of Residence Life Heidi LeCount, VP for Institutional Advancement Lennie Barton and Food Service Director David Penney.
Due to Allman and Bunce’s progressive actions and support from the Meredith College community, they succeeded in catching the attention of Meredith leaders and participated in a meaningful discussion with Dean Ann Gleason in which they expressed their concerns. According to Dean Gleason, after speaking with Allman and Bunce about the Aramark corporation and the dining-related experiences of Meredith students, she shared relevant information “with some members of the Executive Leadership Team” and “with the director of dining at Meredith College, so that he will be aware of these concerns as he works to improve food quality and menu offerings.”
Aramark is a leading food supply company that provides meals and services to institutions such as prisons and schools around the country. Allman and Bunce’s petition explains the unethical business practices that Aramark has been carrying out for decades and why, in Bunce’s words, “the values of Aramark [do not] coincide with the values of Meredith.” The petition also reveals that Aramark profits off mass incarceration and is notorious for supplying prison food that is an immediate threat to inmates’ health — “there have been many cases against Aramark” for “providing facilities with spoiled food” and “food that contains worms, dog food, and scraps of trashed food partially consumed by rats.” Allman and Bunce also acknowledge other records of Aramark’s unethical practices and racist actions: according to PBS, who reported on these issues in 2017, there have been multiple strikes and protests against Aramark due to the company’s poor treatment of prisoners, inadequate serving sizes and cold food. PBS also revealed that not only does Aramark serve food that is a health hazard, but they also mistreat their employees and have faced complaints of being involved in legal matters such as sexual harassment and drug trafficking. Further research from corp-research.org uncovers lists of labor controversies, including Aramark being called out for providing unaffordable health insurance to employees and failing to provide meals and breaks required by state laws. Aramark has also been sued for discrimination and for failing to pay their employees for the correct amount of hours worked. In 2014, CBC reported on the story of a Black woman who experienced discrimination while working for Aramark, and how the company took no action against the racist employees who mistreated her. On NYU’s and Loyola’s campuses, Aramark exhibited racism during an insensitive dining hall celebration of Black History Month, at which the company publicized Black poverty and generalized Black culture by serving a stereotypical menu with Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water alongside fried chicken and collard greens.
Finding out about Aramark’s record and reputation has left Meredith students stunned and wondering why Meredith College is doing business with an unethical company whose actions they feel do not coincide with the values of their school. Aramark’s practices have been going on for decades, but the backlash at Meredith has only been recent; when asked why students are only speaking out now, petition creator Alison Bunce responds, “I think Meredith College students have been aware for a long time of the poor food served to us on campus, [but] what’s coming into the light is how awful Aramark is outside of college campuses.” Co-creator Charlotte Allman explains that she did not become educated on Aramark’s unethical practices until she watched Ava DuVeraney’s documentary 13th on Netflix about racial inequality and went on to do her own research. Allman says that she believes that before this, other Meredith students had not known about Aramark either, and “it took a viral Instagram post for many students to realize this was a problem that needed to be changed.”
The hope of many is that Meredith College will break ties with Aramark and switch to self-operated dining. Self-operated dining is promoted by Students for Food Sovereignty (SFS), a “national coalition of college students fighting for justice and autonomy in our campus kitchens and beyond.” SFS explains that by switching to self-operated dining, schools can create better conditions for mistreated and underpaid employees, nutritious meals for students on campus and new support for local businesses and farmers. Allman and Bunce believe that by terminating Meredith’s contract with Aramark, it will show other colleges and universities that they can also stand up for what is morally correct.
By Katelyn Wiszowaty, Staff Writer