Aramark — Loyola’s food provider and a multi-billion-dollar corporation — has had numerous racism allegations, food sanitation issues and questions about their involvement in the prison system through the years. For all these reasons, the Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) has called on Loyola to pull from this massive corporation and move to a private in-house dining system, according to student government leaders.
SGLC is a student body that acts as an advisory board to provide an open forum for students, faculty and administrators. It started advocating for this change last summer as it called for Loyola to pull from Aramark due to race, wage and sanitation issues with the company, according to Kathryn Caputo, senator and chairperson of SGLC’s residence, commuters and dining committee.
Shifting to an in-house dining system means all the dining hall food would be made on-site and the staff would be employed directly by Loyola, rather than contracted, according to Caputo.
There have been several calls across the university for the school to split from Aramark, including a couple protests and petitions, according to Kaleigh O’Brien, speaker of the Senate.
“Aramark is very heavily invested in the prison system which is a racial justice issue because prisons are invested in imprisoning Black and brown people, so there is a need to address it as a racial issue,” O’Brien, 20, said. “There have been claims in prisons that food is raw or not safe to eat or rotten.”
Aramark is a food service, facilities and uniform services provider for education, healthcare, businesses and prisons, providing its services to over 400 colleges across the United States, according to its website. In 2019, Loyola paid Aramark over $22 million for a year of their service, The Phoenix previously reported. Aramark employees currently make between $15 and $16 an hour following a recent raise and are set to receive another 50-cent raise in July, The Phoenix reported.
Anna Shymanski Zach, a Loyola spokesperson, said Loyola chooses to partner with vendors who align with its mission and values.
“Aramark assured Loyola it views corporate responsibility as a foundational element of their business model and are committed to integrity, justice, fairness, and respect in their business relationships,” Shymanski Zach said.
Loyola monitors the business practices and behaviors of all its major vendors and continues to do so with Aramark, Shymanski Zach said.
“Should we discover that they have deviated from their responsibilities, we will take appropriate action,” Shymanski Zach said. “However, at this time, we see no evidence to question Aramark’s corporate alignment with Loyola’s mission and commitment to social justice.”
Sophia Bamiatzis, Aramark’s marketing manager, said in an email to The Phoenix the vast majority of Aramark’s corrections work — over 99.5 percent — is for state and county correctional facilities rather than private prisons.
“We understand and respect the passionate debate around our nation’s correctional system and its disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities,” Bamiatzis said. “Inmates are not Aramark employees, but we work hard to build and implement programs that help incarcerated women and men prepare for careers and re-entry into their communities.”
Caputo, a sophomore advertising and public relations major, said there have also been questionable instances with Aramark on Loyola’s campus.
O’Brien added that in 2018, during the first week of Black History Month, Aramark served fried chicken, mac and cheese and watermelon in Loyola’s dining halls.
Some students found the Black History Month menu to be “disrespectful” and believed it placed stereotypes around the Black community, The Phoenix previously reported.
The same thing also happened in 2018 with Aramark at New York University (NYU). During Black History Month, the company featured barbecued ribs, cornbread, collard greens, Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water, which all have racist connotations, the Associated Press (AP) reported. This resulted in Aramark firing two employees, issuing an apology to the NYU community and retraining its staff at NYU, according to the AP.
“Several years ago, we regrettably had a racially insensitive incident occur that involved the addition of inappropriate and off-menu items that offended several customers and were directly against our values for respect for all cultures and heritages,” Bamiatzis said.
Bamiatzis also said Aramark accepted responsibility, apologized and took actions to ensure no future incidents occur.
“We took appropriate action with management teams involved, and updated the field menu policy, training and events evaluation process,” Bamiatzis said.
There was also a case in 2019 where at least five students found bugs in their food at all three Lakeshore Campus dining halls — Damen, de Nobili and Simpson, the Phoenix previously reported.
One of SGLC’s original ideas was to use the same food service provider as Arrupe College, Loyola’s two-year associate degree school, but it doesn’t have the capacity to serve all of Loyola’s campuses, according to O’Brien. Caputo and O’Brien said they’re still trying to work out the details of an in-house dining system and a proposal should be coming in the next six months.
“We want an in-house dining system,” O’Brien said. “There are a lot of different models that we are looking at. … It wouldn’t be held by a national corporation that can do whatever they want, and they can better accommodate dietary restrictions, and it would be more sustainable.”
Caputo, 19, said SGLC passed the first piece of legislation in October. When it has passed in the Senate, it shows students are in support of the issue, according to Caputo. She added SGLC still needs to have conversations with the university and continue its advocacy within the administration.
“I think this has a real possibility of succeeding,” O’Brien said. “I think that it has a lot to do with how much we advocate for it. The university means well but they are sometimes slow with change so I don’t think real change will happen for another five to 10 years.”