It was a surreal experience to see my TikTok feed filled with moldy and bizarre excuses for meals from my own university. From watermelon chicken salad to a single piece of bread, it’s apparent that Chartwells, NYU’s dining provider, failed to provide quarantining students with adequate meals. Many students in quarantine weren’t provided food for an entire day, and those that did found themselves with inadequate meals that often went against their dietary restrictions.
NYU provided quarantining students with $30 per day on Grubhub so they could order adequate meals after the issues with meal delivery went public. This new program certainly helped, but it does very little to prevent incidents like this from taking place in the future. Moreover, the fact that some students had to starve while quarantining due to Chartwells’ incompetence is inexcusable. This is just the latest in a long line of controversies and embarrassments resulting from the incompetence of Chartwells, and it’s time for our university to find a new dining provider.
Last year, Palladium received a failing grade from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Conditions in the kitchen had deteriorated to the point that filth flies were present. Palladium’s dining score has improved, but Chartwells has also been involved in numerous health scandals — in 2013, beef products distributed by the company were found to contain horse meat; in 2014, students at a Connecticut high school launched a boycott after finding mold, human hair and undercooked meat in the lunches provided by Chartwells. These past sanitary issues show that the provider fails to put student health first. NYU is jeopardizing the student body’s physical health as well their mental health in the middle of a pandemic by remaining with a dining provider that fails to carry out sanitary dining practices and to provide students with acceptable meals.
Chartwells’ issues extend beyond food and health. Compass Group, the parent company of Chartwells, has relationships with private prisons in Michigan and Florida. The food that a Compass subsidiary provided to several Ontario facilities was contaminated with listeria, causing an outbreak of listeriosis. Given that Chartwells has a history of providing clients with food that continuously puts their health at risk, it is troubling that NYU is willing to support a business that is directly responsible for substandard conditions in prisons and plays a part in incarceration. NYU cannot claim to be a diverse and inclusive institution while supporting systems of mass incarceration that disproportionately affect people of color.
It’s also troubling to consider how Chartwells came to be NYU’s dining provider in the first place. In 2019, NYU responded to months of student protests over previous dining provider Aramark’s ties to prisons, by cutting ties with the company before their contract ended in 2023. But rather than addressing the issue of employing a company that has connections to prisons, NYU simply replaced Aramark with yet another provider playing a part in mass incarceration. What we need is not just an alternative to Chartwells, but an alternative that does not directly go against NYU’s claims of inclusion and diversity by supporting widespread imprisonment. NYU can — and should — do better than any organization with ties to incarceration.
Unfortunately, many dining providers — including Sodexo, Chartwells, Aramark, and AVI Foodsystems — provide food to prisons, so it seems difficult for NYU to find a dining provider that isn’t involved with mass incarceration.
However, NYU could begin self-providing. The number one rated campus dining program belongs to UMass Amherst — a campus that self-provides by feeding students meals made with farm-fresh ingredients. While NYU does not have the ability to grow enough food to feed the community due to its urban location, several other colleges — including Ithaca College and the University of California, Berkeley — have also successfully switched to self-provided dining services by partnering with local vendors over large corporations.
NYU has a responsibility to provide the community with adequate food, but also to make good on their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Keeping a contract with Chartwells is directly contradictory to both of these goals. Now, more than ever, it is time for NYU to break away from dining providers marked by controversy and follow a more equitable path by self-providing dining services.
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Email Kevin Kurian at [email protected]