Aramark Food Vendor Is Again Under Fire For Black History Lunch Menu

Given how tied it is to culture and identity, food carries a lot of meaning, making it all the more critical that it is not given a surface-level treatment. As last year's Great British Bake Off Mexican week controversy showed, attempts to comment on another culture's cuisine without the knowledge and input of people with that heritage can often be more demeaning than inclusive. However, it seems that some missed the last lesson on this kind of cultural misstep, as this week, the food, uniform, and facility service company Aramark is apologizing for its Black History lunch menu.

Black History Month has become a magnet for this kind of controversy. As USA Today reports, schools' attempts to serve a themed meal can often come off as shallow, especially when it relies on stereotypes and doesn't appear to be a genuine attempt to educate people about Black history and culture. This is particularly tragic, as American cuisine is an area where Black culture has made — and continues to make — a massive contribution that is often largely ignored. As noted historian Jessica B. Harris writes for Eater, African-American cooking isn't just one part of our culinary landscape, but the basis from which most Southern foods, and much of America's unique cuisine, sprung. 

Aramark apologizes over Black History Month menu

According to ABC 7 New York, students at Nyack Middle School were fed chicken and waffles with watermelon on February 1st to kick off Black History Month. The menu led to immediate concern from students and parents and prompted the school principal to say the menu had been chosen by the vendor without the school's input. Aramark issued an apology for "unintentional insensitivity," and claimed the menu "was not intended as a cultural meal," while promising to learn and improve from the mistake. This is a familiar script for those who have followed similar past food controversies.

This is not the first time Aramark, a large provider of school dining hall meals, has made this mistake. As Today notes, Aramark served chicken and waffles on Martin Luther King Day at the University of California, Irvine. New York University also cut ties with the company in 2018 after it served a Black History Month menu of ribs, cornbread, collard greens, Kool-Aid, and watermelon-flavored water. 

In the NYU case, Aramark attempted to blame two employees for the mistake, but as New York Magazine reports, one of the fired employees sued the company for defamation, claiming the menu was the company's idea, a fact that Aramark denies.