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Aramark needs to stay

Aramark will leave Miami after a short two years as the dining provider, a decision that Anastasija Mladenovska believes does not benefit students.
Aramark will leave Miami after a short two years as the dining provider, a decision that Anastasija Mladenovska believes does not benefit students.

When I heard about Miami University’s decision to part ways with Aramark, I was shocked. This decision was made without any prior student or Aramark staff consultation and is unjust and lacking transparency.

According to the Global Food Security Index, which measures affordability, availability, quality and safety of food across the globe, the United States falls in 13th place — which is pretty good. 

During my first-year experience as an international student, the food in the U.S. was like eating plastic and it messed up my hormones so badly, I ended up in the emergency room. By July, I was living the first-year 15 stereotype.

One of the many things that Aramark helped me understand about the U.S. is this battle of rapid consumerism — producing as much food as quickly as you possibly can versus actual quality.

College campuses are unique places for dining, and Aramark provided Miami with an opportunity to thrive. Here’s how:

Most importantly, Aramark listened to student concerns. The Student Dining Hall Advisory Committee was created two and a half years ago, and nobody at that time knew the purpose nor the reason for its creation. Now, for the last year and a half, this committee has been the primary driver of change in dining matters. 

Grace Payne, a senior speech pathology and audiology and gerontology double major who is the current chair of the committee, shared her experience with dining throughout the years. Payne told me that whenever student dining concerns were brought to the table prior to Aramark, Miami dining staff was always looking for ways to go around them. 

“I don’t know what the thought process was behind it, and I am sure they had good reasons, but in the end, the answer was always no,” Payne said. 

Payne said that not only were Aramark employees eager for collaboration and including student voices, but they also acted on it. When a student who uses a wheelchair reported that he couldn’t reach the condiments at Starbucks, they moved the condiments to a lower counter in every location in less than 24 hours. 

Aramark has opened dining student worker jobs in every location on campus — and they pay $14 an hour. They have also started an internship program which pays $17 an hour and allows students to gain real experience with projects in their majors. This would have never happened without the company pushing for change. 

Last year, Student Body President Amitoj Kaur and Vice President Khenadi Grubb pushed for Miami to raise the minimum student wage to $11 an hour. Although this initiative was planned long before Aramark arrived, it only became possible during Aramark’s era. Before Aramark, the biggest concerns in dining arose due to the lack of staff. Aramark has made student workers’ positions in dining look cool. 

Another important factor: the food quality is actually better. If you have had Pulley Diner, Sumeshi, Clean Plate or anything from the markets recently, you know what I am talking about. The complete rebranding of Café Lux, re-opening Bell Tower Commons, bringing Panera to campus — all of these have been major positive changes. 

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Payne, who was diagnosed with celiac disease (severe gluten intolerance) in her sophomore year of high school, told me that her life has been much easier since the installation of Clean Plate, where there is no cross-contamination. 

“I get my food and I see my little gluten-free sticker and suddenly I am so relieved,” Payne said. 

Aramark has experimented with a lot of concepts, and I actually had the chance to be an active participant in these changes as a finance intern in Armstrong Student Center. The concept of consolidating our menus, providing fewer choices of high quality was something that my mentor and I worked together on. Look at Café Lux for example; its menu was more than 20 pages before Aramark. 

Aramark leaving not only impacts the future of dining at Miami and what students will eat, but it also impacts the lives of Aramark employees. 

As for now, most of the people who work for Aramark will either be relocated somewhere else within the company or laid off. The fact that Miami is keeping Aramark here until the end of the school year tells me that this decision was not made in the prime of wisdom and wasn’t made after careful thought and consideration.

Aramark has created a community around dining. Whether that was through the events in the dining halls, offering free food and discounts, experimenting with new vendors or bringing in Greek cuisine at Western Dining Commons, Aramark really tried.

Aramark is not perfect, and dining concerns will always be a part of the student life at Miami, but our partnership with Aramark benefitted students.

Don’t let dining fall flat, Miami. We deserve the best possible dining options.

Anastasija Mladenovska is a second-year political science, finance and Russian, East European & Eurasian studies triple major from Macedonia. She is involved with the Honors College and Scholar Leaders. She also volunteers for the League of Women Voters of Oxford.