The Sou’wester

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.

4 Comments

4 Responses to “Aramark’s food: Getting to the root of the problem”

  1. Anonymous on November 14th, 2018 2:00 pm

    This article is very unfair. I have been at Rhodes for 7 semesters and I have never seen anyone say or do anything mean to a rat or lair worker. I agree that the Aramark system is completely unacceptable and needs to be changed, for much more than the reason of poor food quality. However, this article creates a further divide by seemingly blaming these conditions on the generalized population of white Rhodes students. Also, how is “folks” not already gender neutral?

  2. Ellie Johnson on November 14th, 2018 8:09 pm

    Jamarr,

    Thank you so much for this article–a lot of students, especially white students (myself included) need to be reminded of this. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s all get to work now.

    Ellie Johnson

  3. - on November 19th, 2018 5:15 pm

    Because this article has no quotes from actual Aramark employees, it makes me question if this sentiment (that underlying racism/mistreatment from students and faculty is both common and linked to food quality) is truly reflective of how the Aramark team feels. If Aramark is mistreating its employees, that is a HUGE issue. It is also separate from this proposed issue that Aramark workers are frequently exposed to racially fueled abuse from students and faculty. That’s a very serious claim to make, yet there are no people from the actual Aramark team cited to support that claim. I’m sure it happens and I absolutely believe it’s an issue that should be solved, but I feel this article mistakenly connects our social problem with our food quality problem. The article never explains how those two issues are connected. More importantly, it seems disrespectful to write an article meant to defend these (capable, thoughtful, adult) employees without having the decency to contact them directly and hear their own opinions. I may have read it wrong, but it makes me uncomfortable that words are being put in the Aramark members’ mouths. Is this how they really feel or is it a conclusion the author has reached on their own? In further articles i would love to see more interaction and conversation with Aramark employees (like the bits that were in the headline article) because their point of view is extremely valuable and important.

  4. Bill Yelden on January 14th, 2019 8:10 am

    Hello,

    As a Memphian, I am quite disturbed by what I just read here and would like to know what the administration has to say about this situation? Has anyone reached out to seek a review of the food program from another food service provider? Has anyone sought out an organization that values diversity of work force as well as creative culinary focus?
    I would hate to think that educated minds would turn a blind eye to an issue or issues like these without any idea of how to improve.

    Thanks,

    Bill

Constructive discourse is the bedrock of a successful democracy. For this reason, comments will be moderated to ensure substantive dialogue for the Rhodes community. Personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence and comments in ALL-CAPS will not be tolerated. Rhodes students: take care to ensure your comments abide by the honor code and commitment to diversity. Comments violating college policy will be turned over to the appropriate student judiciary or administrative organ.

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