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Bwogger Sophie Murphy explains why students are protesting Barnard’s food service provider, Aramark, and provides the administration’s response to the Barnard No Aramark Boycott so far.

This past Wednesday, a group of Barnard and Columbia students boycotted Aramark, Barnard College’s food service provider. Lead organizers of the Barnard No Aramark protest include Tanisha Aggarwal, BC ’20, and Maeve Flaherty, CC ’21 in conjunction with the Roosevelt Institute Human Rights Center. According to the Barnard No Aramark Facebook page, “Aramark serves insufficient and unsanitary food to prisoners – food with maggots, rat feces, and even garbage.” The page additionally notes: “Both Ohio and Michigan fined Aramark for underfeeding prisoners. Yet Aramark makes over a billion dollars in profit each year.” Protestors want the Barnard administration as “an institution who claims to care about ethics” to dissociate from a company with such unacceptable instances of prison abuses.

On November 14, students protested Aramark by boycotting all Barnard dining halls (Hewitt, Liz’s Place, the Diana Center Cafe, and Peet’s). There were also demonstrators in front of Barnard Hall with posters urging Barnard to end its partnership with Aramark. An online petition circulated on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the boycott has accumulated 1,043 signatures–approximately 40% of the Barnard student body.

Student complaints about Aramark are not new. Barnard has maintained a partnership with Aramark for around thirty years. However, the College has the opportunity to switch providers this year, when the administration renegotiates its ten-year dining contract. Attention and anger towards Aramark has therefore spiked. Barnard No Aramark proposes Barnard switch to CU Dining. “We’re all one University, so why are half of us being forced to support an unethical corporation?” their Facebook page and petition read.

Criticism of Aramark’s unethical practices is not unique to Barnard. The University of Chicago had similar protests in 2016. John Oliver has even spoken out against Aramark’s practices. Barnard’s Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldberg’s statement regarding the protest is as follows:

The College appreciates when students voice their concerns on important issues.  With regard to yesterday’s protest, it is important to reiterate that the College is undertaking a thorough and competitive process to determine the future of dining at Barnard. We have hired a consultant and have formed a search committee to help us manage this process. The Committee includes a student representative along with representatives from Student Life, Residential Life and Housing, Facilities Services, Campus Services, and Finance. We are very interested in student feedback on current and future dining operations. Students are encouraged to send their feedback to to be included in the selection process. With respect to the current food service staff, it is premature to address their individual situations. We will treat the food service staff with dignity and respect during this process.

Bwog has reached out to Aramark and will update this post with a statement from the corporation if one is provided.

While it’s probably too soon to say how effective the boycott will be, it certainly made waves on campus. November 14th will most likely be the first and last time I see a deserted Peet’s Coffee Bar at 10 AM.

Update, 11/16, 12:30 pm: We have received a statement from Karen Cutler, Aramark’s VP of Communications & Public Affairs, in response to the Barnard No Aramark protest:

We appreciate the opportunity to address the issues raised by students over the past few weeks and we think it is important to correct the record.

To be clear, Aramark does not operate nor does it support private prisons. Aramark does work with State and County correctional facilities. In fact, these facilities mandate and supervise the nutritional specifications for menus (calories, portions, religious meals). All menus are developed by registered dietitians utilizing guidelines based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) and Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI). Daily calories provided range between 2,500-3,500, and are consistent with recommendations by health experts.

Aramark’s Corrections business is the target of criticism by special interest groups opposed to privatization. We understand their concerns, but many groups have levied unfounded allegations about the quality of our services including charges of strikes and pest infestation. There has never been a strike against Aramark and there has never been infestation of any kind in Aramark food served in Corrections facilities.

Aramark has helped rehabilitate millions of people who are or have been incarcerated through our IN2WORK vocational training, which has earned a National Governors Award for Public Private Partnerships. The program has helped reduce recidivism by as much as 30 percent in some cases.

Aramark partners with hundreds of colleges and universities in North America, and we are especially proud of our partnership with Barnard. Through our campus dining programs, we employ tens of thousands of students across the country as well as offer corporate internship opportunities.

We greatly appreciate the concerns raised and the opportunity to discuss these important topics.

             Photo via Barnard No Aramark Facebook page