It was after Lipton Dining Hall received a “C” grade during a Department of Health inspection that NYU initiated a bidding process with food service providers for a new dining contract. The university received proposals from four food service providers: current supplier Aramark, Compass Group USA, Sodexo and AVI Foodsystems. However, on Sept. 12, Sodexo suddenly withdrew from the bidding process without providing a reason, according to Assistant Vice President for Campus Services Owen Moore.
Lipton’s poor health rating last November marked the start of tensions surrounding Aramark and catalyzed NYU’s decision to review its 10-year contract with the food service provider, which was supposed to end in 2023, Moore continued. Aramark also served a racially insensitive Black History Month meal at Downstein that further fueled calls to sever ties with Aramark. Despite the protests this meal elicited on campus, NYU’s decision to review its food service provider was not attributed to this meal.
“The university was reviewing the dining services contract last fall and made the decision in November 2017 to begin the process of issuing an RFP [request for proposal] for its dining services,” Moore said. “Aramark was notified in December 2017. The meal served at Weinstein during [Black History Month] was in February 2018, so the decision and process had already started.”
With Aramark, AVI and Compass Group still in the running for a contract with NYU, campus activist groups remain disgruntled with the invited food service providers. CAS senior and Incarceration to Education Coalition activist Matthew Perry feels that the food service providers who have submitted a proposal have all contributed to the prison-industrial complex.
“IEC’s stance is that we oppose any contract with any company that helps run prisons and thus makes money from expanding the prison population,” Perry said. “All of the companies that we are aware of so far fall into this category.”
Aramark, Compass and AVI all have ties to federal and private prisons. Aramark has been involved in a range of scandals regarding its services to private prisons. The state of Michigan canceled a $145 million contract with Aramark in 2015 over complaints of the quality of food, and also after a judge found an Aramark employee guilty of attempting to orchestrate an assault on an inmate.
In 2008, a division of Compass Group which supplies food to Ontario correctional facilities tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria most commonly found in unpasteurized dairy products, raw vegetables and meats, which can cause brain and blood infections. AVI has ties to prisons in Michigan, but there are no known scandals.
Olivia Rich is a second-year NYU Law student and a spokesperson for NYU Divest, a group that advocates for an end to university fossil fuel investments. She believes it is unacceptable for NYU to pursue any relationship with companies that have financial ties to prisons.
“NYU Divest stands in solidarity with IEC in their struggle to end NYU’s complicity in the racist, classist, and unjust prison-industrial complex,” Rich said in an email to WSN. “In the completely avoidable event that NYU elects to continue contracting with any food provider that closely and actively exploits prisons and incarcerated people, we will fight alongside IEC for the solutions they demand.”
Moore responded to concerns over the food service providers’ relationships with prisons.
“I met with the IEC last spring and have kept in contact throughout the process, and we had an open and candid conversation regarding food services,” Moore said. “In fact, based on that conversation we added language to the [contract proposals] that requires all bidders to disclose its relationships related to correctional business and or prisons.”
Ultimately, activist groups like the IEC want NYU to become a self-provider for dining services, since other schools such as the University of California, Los Angeles and Yale University, have already done so. However, Moore emphasized how such an endeavor is not feasible for NYU.
“Were the university to take food service in-house, it would also have to reproduce all the kinds of management, technical positions, and support systems that the professional food service vendors already have in place,” Moore said. “That would cost millions of dollars.”
At a dining advisory committee meeting last year, Moore indicated preference for larger companies — referencing Sodexo and Compass — because he felt that, aside from Aramark, these companies would most efficiently meet NYU’s dining needs. Since Sodexo is now no longer involved in the bidding process, Moore’s prior comments imply that the competition has narrowed down to just Aramark and Compass, although he was unwilling to confirm this to WSN.
“We are keeping an open mind with all the bidders,” Moore said. “Students, faculty and administrators reviewing the proposals and presentations will determine which company is the best for NYU.”
Perry expressed concern with NYU’s decision to pursue a dining contract with any of the three remaining contenders.
“[The food service providers] want to expand the suffering and oppression of black, brown and queer bodies,” Perry said. “If NYU were to choose any of those companies, it would be a slap in the face to those communities who suffer from the carceral state.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 15 print edition. Email Meghna Maharishi at [email protected]