Aramark email blast should be alarming for students, administration

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Students, faculty, and staff at SVSU received an email blast from an animal rights group called The Humane League last week encouraging them to support its campaign aimed at ending the university’s food service contract with Aramark. The Human League’s campaign focuses on what it sees as Aramark’s problematic sourcing of food from unethical factory farms. The email cites several animal cruelty complaints against the chicken farms Aramark sources from, and encourages readers to join The Humane League’s effort to “kick Aramark off campus.”

The Humane League’s complaints stem from Aramark’s sourcing of chicken from industrial farming operations which they characterize as overcrowded and filthy. They claim that the chickens raised in these operations are, through genetic modification, grown to such an unnaturally large size that they are often crippled under their own weight. This lameness forces them to lie on excrement – and ammonia – covered floors, which effectively cause chemical burns to the birds. They claim that chickens in these facilities frequently die from dehydration and health problems related to their growth rates. The Humane League also calls the slaughtering methods used in these farms inhumane.

Animal cruelty complaints against Aramark are nothing new, and this isn’t the only area in which Aramark has faced significant controversy. Readers may remember the flurry of negative news stories involving Aramark last year, culminating in the Michigan state prison system terminating its $145 million contract with the food service giant. Investigations into Aramark Correctional Services in several states found incidents of spoiled and maggot-infested food being served to inmates and multiple instances of Aramark employees engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with prisoners and smuggling in contraband. Prisoners at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland were literally served dog food and scraps.

When Aramark is contracted to keep food under one or two dollars per meal per prisoner (or student), is it really that surprising that corners are cut, low grade ingredients are used or that the cheapest sources of food are used regardless of any ethical considerations for the animals being slaughtered?

Some may wonder how Aramark is so successful at getting state contracts with prisons and universities in light of its repeated scandals involving ethics, cleanliness, animal cruelty and labor violations. The answer seems to be that the administrators of these facilities simply do not care about anything but the bottom line.

That’s certainly the case with SVSU. SVSU administration undoubtedly looked into Aramark’s history when considering contracting with them and saw two things: a history of gross ethical violations and a budget-friendly way to meet their food service needs. Which do you think mattered more in their final determination?

As reported in The Valley Vanguard last year when Michigan terminated its prison contract with Aramark, SVSU Director of Media and Community Relations J. J. Boehm stated that the university felt “most students, faculty and staff seem generally pleased with the quality of food service Aramark provides here,” and that “we continue to partner with Aramark, as we feel they effectively meet the needs of our campus community.” This attitude misses the point of the complaints leveled at Aramark. No one is claiming that Aramark employees don’t know how to serve a plate of food.

SVSU administration wants students fed cheaply. They don’t care what else Aramark does or where the food comes from. Administration argues that the correctional services branch of Aramark is separate from that which provides food services to SVSU, but this operational segregation does not change the fact that students at SVSU are compelled to indirectly support Aramark’s unethical and inhumane practices.

Students who benefit from the convenience of the Marketplace at Doan buffet must recognize that a significant chunk of their tuition and food bills are profiting a company that effectively tortures prisoners and sources from factory farms, the conditions in which most people can’t even bear to look at photos of. University administration owes the student body food services that are not only affordable and nutritious but also untainted with the cruelty of animal abuse and some of the worst excesses of the prison-industrial complex.

It seems unlikely that the planned email and Facebook ad campaign will be enough to sway administrators.

They’ve weathered this type of criticism before, though maybe not in this concentrated form. I doubt SVSU administration will consider terminating its contract with Aramark without sustained, direct action undertaken by the student body. Change at SVSU Dining Services might only be possible through an organized boycott of the Marketplace in concert with the threat of mass divestment by the alumni community. This is of course complicated by the fact that freshmen are forced to buy meal plans, which would likely go to waste unless used at the Marketplace.

It is very easy to ignore the plight of abused prisoners and animals many miles away while we enjoy our meals of dubious quality and cost on campus. What’s not so easy to ignore, especially in light of the new campaign targeting Aramark at SVSU, is our indirect role in that abuse.

SVSU’s continued relationship with Aramark is an unjustifiable embarrassment that can’t end soon enough.