Aramark’s food: Getting to the root of the problem

Students place their orders with an Aramark employee.

Photo courtesy of Rhodes College

Students place their orders with an Aramark employee.

Jamarr McCain '19, Contributor

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In April 2017, when I was first elected BSA President, one of my first (and ongoing) missions was combating Rhodes’ food vendor, Aramark – the multi-billionaire, for-profit prison supporter and provider that is notorious for profiting off of the enslaved labor of black and brown folx. While I question Aramark’s morality as a company, I definitely know their local management is very problematic when it comes to the treatment of their employees and the quality of food they provide.

After talking with some Aramark employees at Rhodes, I know/believe that the Aramark employees that serve our food are not respected or treated fairly. Unfortunately, I am not surprised that most of the workers, who complained to me about said mistreatment, are black. As a black student at a predominantly white institution (PWI) like Rhodes, I can only imagine the reality of being a black Aramark employee at Rhodes and serving a lot of affluent students (with a small pocket of them never having seen a black person in person before). I know all too well what kind of microaggressions and explicit prejudice my white peers/professors are capable of expressing (i.e. lynched sock monkeys and bigoted alt-right articles, to name a few). I also have witnessed how my white peers will belittle or dehumanize black Aramark employees when being served in the Rat or Lair. For example, barking commands at the people that serve you food and subsequently yelling at them for not being “fast enough” is sickening, to say the absolutely very least.

So when you take the mistreatment of black Aramark employees from white students into account on top of how white Aramark managers/supervisors treat their employees, one should clearly see the problem black Aramark employees face. Dehumanization, disrespect, and blatant mistreatment. Aramark employees being forced to stand for an entire shift – no matter how busy/slow they may be or the employee’s personal health – is problematic. This is especially disgusting when you think of any Aramark employee who have back problems or any physical issue. Aramark employees being told that they cannot wear jackets due to their manager’s “suspicion” of them stealing money. Or how workers are not being respected the way they should be from management when students are present. The list, depending on who you talk to, goes on and on. The main point of this being our black Aramark employees are facing problems that they should not have to go through on all sides – from students, faculty/staff, and their bosses. The problems from student is more of a cultural issue that I think requires a larger conversation about actually adhering to and embodying the Rhodes Commitment to Diversity. The problem from Aramark managers is, like the student problem, unacceptable and needs to be changed immediately. I’m tired of seeing black folx working to make ends meet, support their families, and LIVE being ridiculed and talked down to because of their occupation. A job is a job! No matter what that job is, one’s humanity and dignity must be acknowledged and respected, no exceptions.

On another note, I firmly believe the quality of Aramark’s food is connected to the mistreatment of Aramark’s employees. If your being mistreated at your job by management and customers, then it is plausible your work ethic and passion may dwindle. So when I walk into the Rat and see the same food presented in slightly different ways each week, I am far from surprised. What does surprise me is the amount of Rhodes students that will cry and complain about the food but fail to ask the necessary question that will lead them to an even bigger issue: why is the food this bad? I can assure you that the unseasoned, bland recipes are not the only culprits. If you wonder why the people serving your food don’t look happy when serving you, then ask why are they unhappy. Do you see my point here?

Compassion and trying to understand someone else’s pain and suffering can go a long way. Tired of hard noodles and rice and bland (and sometimes half-cooked) chicken? Then you should look at how tired our Aramark employees, especially black ones, are of being mistreated, disrespected, and dehumanized by Rhodes students, faculty/staff, and their bosses. It’s simple. People who are, at least, respected and treated properly at work are more likely to produce better products/services. In our case, the Aramark food becomes better when Aramark employees are treated much better than how they currently are.