USM student Jarrod Colley recently started a petition to reassess or remove Aramark Corporation from the student dining experience. This would also remove them from the several other restaurants on campus, as they also are run by Eagle Dining.
The petition was sparked by a blog post, written by USM student Carmine Harrell on The Odyssey Online. The post was an expose of the conditions of food fed to students by Aramark and the Fresh Food Company.
“The students of The University are tired of Eagle Dining, and how it is run. We pay so much money for meal-plans, and for what?” Harrell wrote. “We come for orientation blissfully ignorant to all of your many flaws and get sucked into your lies about how great the cafeteria is, and which meal plan would be the best, but it’s all a crock.”
Harrell said the Fresh Food Company is not able to actually provide what they promise when it comes to unlimited meals.
Harrell said that The Fresh has a policy that students can only swipe into The Fresh once per hour.
“Once you look at this, factor in classes, work, extra- curriculars[sic], your chances at eating are very limited, so good luck,” Harrell wrote.
These sentiments were included in the petition that was started to get the university to reassess their relationship with Aramark, whether through negotiation or termination.
“The hours of the main cafeteria on campus, known as ’The Fresh Food Company’ are not excellent to begin with, but when I finally break away for a meal (usually 1pm [sic] for lunch and 7pm [sic] for dinner), The Fresh does not have any food that they advertise online,” Colley wrote in the petition. “This is simply unacceptable considering how much money I have to pay for the required meal plan.”
Colley said he has some concerns of his own about The Fresh and its conditions.
“Low quality food, poor hours, an intense price for said food and nothing drives me more crazy than the ‘We’re out’ excuse,’” he said.
Colley said he would like to see Aramark change its practices.
“Honestly, I just want good food,” Colley said. “SEC schools use Aramark, and the food is considerably better. If Aramark can’t deliver quality food like that, then it has come [time] for us to end contractual relationship with them or see nobody purchase a meal plan for
the next school year.”
According to USM’s catering policy, Aramark has exclusive rights and privileges in USM’s dining experience.
While the exact contract could not be accessed in time, a summary from USM’s catering policy is available online.
“Aramark, or ‘Eagle Dining’, by contract, has exclusive rights to provide the university with meals, including a la carte items and non-alcoholic beverages. Eagle Dining shall provide catering services for all events located on the Hattiesburg campus as Eagle Dining serves the university in hosting business meal functions, and entertainment for guests and students of the university,” the catering policy reads.
This is echoed in the full version, where neither a date of origination nor a date of expiration were available. The next revision of this policy is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2017.
Students are not the only ones that have run-ins with the policy — some university staff and organizations also have their share of issues.
“University departments located on the Hattiesburg campus cannot use department funds for off-campus food vendors while on or off campus,” the policy continues. “However, Eagle Dining permits all registered student organizations and departments to bring in snack food and beverages not totaling more than $100 to organizational and departmental meetings.”
Chief Communications Officer Jim Coll said that Aramark has already spoken with the student and that plans are being made.
“Aramark representatives have already had a productive meeting with the student whose experiences sparked the petition and has also engaged representatives from the Student Government Association who will continue to serve as an ongoing voice for students in this matter,” Coll said.
Coll said that students, faculty and staff all have a voice in what is on the menu and lists many things that Aramark is doing for
Aramark VP for Corporate Communications Karen Cutler said in statement that the university is committed to “[providing] a positive, safe and healthy dining environment.”
“We will continue to take all necessary precautions to ensure food safety and maintain a quality dining program for the USM community,” Cutler said.
Coll said recent student feedback related to food services has been increasingly positive.
“We expect that this will also be the case in the future and will continue to work with Aramark to ensure USM students, faculty and staff have quality and convenient on-campus food options at affordable prices,” Coll said.
Harrell and members from SGA have already met with Aramark to address the situation, according to Cutler and Aramark.
“We have met with the SGA, as well as several student and student leadership groups to get their feedback and have an open dialogue,” Cutler said. “Right now we are evaluating what changes we can make to The Fresh over the summer to accommodate as much of the feedback as possible.”
Eagle Dining refused to comment and University President Rodney Bennett could not be reached for comment.
Editor’s note: Changes have been made to the article regarding the accidental misattribution of a quotation. In the last paragraph, “Harrell said” has been changed to “Cutler said” to accurately reflect attribution. Jarrod Colley’s name has also been changed to accurately reflect spelling.