The Beast Within: The Story of Aramark

The corporate face of Hamline meals: malpractice and ethically blurred.

Andy Stec, Columnist

It’s no large secret that the United States prison population is the highest in the world. Over 2 million adults are incarcerated – nearly 60% being minorities—a startling 29% more adults than the next closest country: China. These unsettling statistics are kept in line by legislation lobbied by corporations and companies which seek to further privatize the prison system, turning an already fringe and dejected facet of society into a source of profit. This avenue of corporate America should, undoubtedly, be one that this university staunchly protests. It is a representation of the greatest ills in our society; corporate greed, mass incarceration, institutionalized racism and rampant social injustice. Even so, one of the participants of this national injustice has embedded itself deep into this institution. Hiding in plain sight.

Every bite of food you take from the Bishop’s Bistro, every item you buy in the C-Store puts money in the pocket of Aramark Corp. To most, that name probably means very little. To some of you, it might be recognized as one of the continent’s largest food service providers. Aramark prides itself in distributing food, facilities and uniform services to education, healthcare, businesses, sports and corrections clients. Emphasis on that last one. By privatizing food services in federal and state corrections facilities, Aramark directly profits from every inmate, no matter the crime.

Aramark proudly proclaims that, “With [Aramark], you can expect more—more savings.” A proclamation they steadfastly deliver on, no matter the cost. The company has a long history stretching back to the early 2000s of changing courses to include substandard—and cheaper—ingredients, running out of food completely and rampant health and safety violations. In 2013 the Burlington County Jail of New Jersey was found to be serving spoiled food, which made prisoners violently sick—this food was provided, stored and prepared by Aramark. That same year, prisons across Michigan and Ohio saw sudden outbreaks of foodborne illness after Aramark kitchens were found to have maggot infestations. These instances of blatant neglect for quality and safety may be, thus far, limited to prisons – but it says quite a lot about a company by how they treat the customers who don’t have a choice in selecting their services. This is a position that many Higher Education and K-12 schools are beginning to find themselves in, as Aramark continues to monopolize its services in the United States.

The laws upholding the privatization of prisons, kept in place due to the machinations and legal bribery of lobbyists, remain in place despite their dubious morality. A country with an already immense prison population gains nothing from turning it into a lucrative operation to be run by corporations. The prison-industrial complex has provided us with “Three Strike” laws, “Truth in Sentencing” and several other “tough on crime” initiatives that have only served to turn a system of should-be rehabilitation, into blind punishment. Private prison contractors – Aramark among them—have funded lobbyists to ensure that legislation for tougher, longer sentences persists. Since 1998, Aramark Corporation has contributed over $3.2 million to these lobbyists—cementing itself as a firm supporter of these racist, socially unjust laws.

It seems that Hamline’s initiative for justice in modern society ends at the Bistro. In all seriousness, Aramark’s monopolization of the food-service industry coupled with our university’s immense debt makes for a situation which provides little wiggle-room. Most other colleges in the area—other than St. Olaf, Macalester, and Carleton—are all essentially at the heel of Aramark, as well as most K-12 schools. Even so, I wonder where Hamline places priority in funding in terms of appearances versus actions. It is my hope that in the formative years to come, Hamline understands what can be assumed of supporting an ethically gray service provider like Aramark. When a propagator of unjust laws and business practices embeds itself so deeply on campus, it is only natural to call into question what campus’ ‘values’.