Aramark is decadent and depraved

Student leaders take the first steps towards an internally run dining service

Will Nelson, Opinion Columnist

These past few weeks, I’ve gradually started to realize that carving out the festering, cancerous welt of corporate greed and moral depravity that is Aramark from Hamline’s dining services isn’t just a Pipe dream. It’s a very real possibility.

For those of you who may not be familiar with it, Aramark is the corporation behind our food service. All of our food comes from them, from Bishop’s Bistro and Piper Grill to Leo’s Corner. It’s one of the largest food providers in North America, serving prisons, universities, schools, and hospitals across the continent. 

Aramark is also a perfect hallmark of the ruinous effects of late-stage capitalism and its moral decay on society. Since 1998 they’ve contributed $32 million to lobbyists in support of the privatization of prisons, and, by aiding the prison-industrial complex, they directly benefit from the disproportionate incarceration of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) people. 

Labor controversies surround them like flies on a week-old carcass, including a 2019 involuntary servitude lawsuit. Additionally, they have a history of violating contract terms and defrauding taxpayers. 

Severe health and safety violations in their kitchens have led to prison riots, and they have a paper trail of malpractice lawsuits longer than the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Aramark is the kind of Fortune 500 horseshit that would give Teddy Roosevelt a conniption and make the Monopoly man blush.

Yet here it is, crouched in the Trojan Horse of Anderson’s halls, standing against every single value that this university is supposed to represent.

I could write another whole article about how much Aramark sucks, but that’s not what this article is about. This article is about hope.

Juniors Emma Harrington and Sagal Blomgren are two important players in this story. They founded a group (not technically a chartered organization) called Hamline Students for Food Sovereignty, committed to replacing Aramark with an internal dining service.

“Especially for a school that prides itself so heavily on justice and doing what’s right, I think this is a step in the right direction for environmental justice and access to food on campus in the most ethical way possible, and should be something that Hamline strives towards,” says Blomgren.

The group is in the process of becoming a branch of Uprooted and Rising, an organization dedicated to centering the ideas and experiences of those who have been marginalized by corporate control and white supremacy in our food system by dismantling ‘Big Food’ corporations.

Part of their efforts has been working with HUSC to write a resolution

“One of the first things that [Uprooted and Rising] recommends is to pass a student government resolution, because it shows the higher-up administration that we are all for this, so it can really have some sway in what the administration does,” said Harrington.

The resolution was written up over the course of two open virtual discussions over the summer, with 18 listed authors, says HUSC President Kaia Zeigler. 

The resolution essentially recommends that Hamline not renew its contract with Aramark when it expires in 2024, and instead, replace it with “an internal food service that is financially and environmentally sustainable, inclusive and locally driven.”

At a HUSC General Assembly last Tuesday, the resolution was discussed, but an unfortunate WiFi outage prevented a vote.

The passage of the resolution would not guarantee that Aramark’s contract will not be renewed, but it’s a pretty significant step forward. 

There are a lot of moving pieces in this process to consider, not least of which is the well-being of the workers. 

A lot of really wonderful people, from the first-year scanning ID cards to the Director of Dining Services, are employed in the food services in Anderson, some of whom have been there for upwards of twenty years. 

They are truly some of the kindest and friendliest people I’ve ever met, and each time I come to the dining hall, they brighten my day. 

It would be incredibly unfair to allow this shift to affect their employment, and that’s something that the resolution’s authors are cognizant of.

“This is a much larger company issue, so we would not want it to impact [the workers’] employment,” said Zeigler. “Our goal would be that they could still keep their jobs if they choose.”

I tried to set up some interviews with dining hall workers hoping to understand their perspectives, but was told that I needed permission from their supervisor; permission I was never granted. 

As we set about removing this sordid cancer from our campus, we need to make sure we’re using sutures, not machetes. This is a delicate operation, and there are a lot of livelihoods on the line. 

Another important aspect to consider is Aramark’s relationship with Anderson Center. 

A popular rumor seems to be that Aramark has some kind of ownership over Anderson. This isn’t really true. Aramark has exclusive catering rights in Anderson, but even that could hypothetically be renegotiated, should the contract end.

Switching from Aramark to an internal dining service has been done in numerous schools across the country, including University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Yale. Not only would it ensure that Hamline isn’t supporting Aramark, but it also provides us with the opportunity to secure more ethical wages for workers, and provides students and faculty with healthier and more culturally appropriate foods.

Aramark is selling us convenience but at the price of complicity in systemic oppression. 

“If we want to continue saying that Hamline ‘does all the good we can by all the means we can’,” said Harrington, “We need to match that with reality.”