What’s behind your lunch? Part 5

How can a company like Aramark be so badand yet keep making money hand over fist?

John Hoff

Could anything be more relevant than where your next lunch is coming from? From cage-free eggs to Coca-Cola’s syrupy taste of greed, to the saga of Aramark, what students eat and drink is hotter than hot lunch.

Perhaps you were waiting for the other shoe to drop last fall, wondering when Aramark might respond to “What’s behind your lunch?” volumes 1 through 4. But, really, if you were Aramark, you would probably just keep your head down, keep your mouth shut and keep flipping burgers. But it’s time to press the old Google button once again to find out what Aramark has been doing in the past month.

At Duke University in Durham, N.C., the director of Duke Dining Services admits bringing Aramark to campus was a mistake. The Wall Street Journal once ranked Duke as having some of the best food in the country, but now calls the food “mediocre.”

Dining Services Director Jim Wulforst was “not only furious about the poor assessment, but also exasperated by the apathetic reactions of Aramark representatives” who considered the Wall Street Journal “just another newspaper article.”

Aramark is accused of gouging Duke University on food prices and much more. For the past two years, student-government and the Student Dining Advisory Committee have voted “no confidence” in Aramark.

At the University of Illinois-Chicago, an editorial in the Chicago Flame says the Aramark monopoly on campus “allows Wendy’s and Subway to consistently give us miserable service, the cafeteria to sell sandwiches on stale bread for over $4.”

Student protests at the University of California-Irvine continued near the administrative flagpoles, protesting the mistreatment of employees on campus, including Aramark workers. At one point, a college chancellor walked past and was booed.

But one nonunion electrical contractor who disagreed with the protest was quoted at length by the university student-newspaper, saying stuff like, “There are more Hispanics and Orientals doing menial jobs because that’s what they do in their own countries if they’re lucky enough to have that.” He said college students do not want to work, but prefer to complain.

A paralyzed 8-year-old girl is still waiting for a $135 million jury judgment against Aramark. The company was found guilty of serving a visibly drunk fan at Giants Stadium and contributing to a “culture of intoxication” which led to the child’s injury.

The large monetary judgment happened a year ago, but has not been paid, pending an appeal. The child’s family hopes to eventually move into a handicapped-accessible house but, for now, lives in a regular house in Bergen County, N.J.

The little girl, Antonia Verni, is paralyzed from the neck down and must breathe through a tube. She still dreams of becoming a ballerina. Watching a cartoon called “Elastigirl,” Antonia said, “Her costume is elastic and her real body is too.”

Inmates at the Passaic County Jail in New Jersey went on a hunger strike to protest food that was described as cold and “too cheap to be nutritious.” Bill Maer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, thought the prisoners were being manipulative, but agreed Aramark’s meal standards were not high enough.

In Colorado, beef producers are furious over a plan by Aramark to “trim costs and calories” by serving prisoners ground turkey instead of ground beef. One state senator said, “They prepare those meals so cheap, I don’t know that turkey and beef are that far apart in terms of price.” Inmates of the jail in Colorado Springs would tend to agree. Last summer they “went on a brief hunger strike after five straight nights of turkey-based meals.”

It should be made clear that last month had good news as well as bad news. Aramark received an award from PETA for its “commitment to vegetarian offerings.” One campus dining facility in Canada introduced biodegradable food containers. And in China, a city hospital in “economically-underdeveloped north Fujian” contracted with Aramark for services. Many other stories told of constant expansion and profit.

You have to wonder how Aramark can keep being so bad, yet keep growing and making money hand over fist. Why aren’t all these different jails, stadiums, campuses and other facilities comparing notes?

Why don’t new customers research the well-documented negative experiences of entities that have hired Aramark?

In the era of the Internet, how does Aramark just keep flying under the radar? (In a Marlon Brando voice) You gotta wonder what their secret might be.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]