Aramark contract isolates students with dietary restrictions

WKU signed a letter of intent for a 20-year contract with Aramark recently. The contract begins July 1 and is estimated to be worth $20 million a year, according to a press release. The contract includes a $75 fee for all full-time students who do not buy a meal plan.

Students deserve to make their own choice about purchasing a campus service. This measure would disproportionately impact those with food allergies and other dietary restrictions. Students’ money and livelihoods should not be made pawns in WKU’s negotiations with a huge corporation.

As a marathoner, and a vegan, Sunday is both my meal-planning day and my long run day. After I finish my run, I make pasta or stir fry for lunch––something with lots of carbs, veggies and protein for recovery. My favorite is mushroom stir fry with colorful bell peppers, tofu and fresh basil from my garden. For dinner, I make some kind of soup, stew or black beans and rice.

The leftovers from my meals last me all week. Every week, I know I can rely on this simple but rewarding routine to clear my head. Think of your own routine. What you eat is important to you, right?

Last spring, my Sunday routine was quite different. On Sundays after I finished a long run, I usually went to lunch at the Fresh Food Company. Lunch consisted of dry brown rice, some sort of soggy tofu dish, green beans and fruit––basically whatever vegan options I could find. For dinner, I ate half a Veggie Delight Subway sandwich and a small bag of apple slices. For the rest of my week, I ate the same three meals at Subway, Panda Express and Fresh Food.

Though I became an expert on campus vegan options, it simply wasn’t enough food. The vegetarian and vegan options were sparse, had little nutritious variation and were usually low in protein. As I advanced in my training, I found myself eating at Fresh Food on an almost nightly basis just to get enough food. It might go without saying that my digestive tract didn’t love this new routine. Of course, my dietary restrictions were by choice for environmental sustainability reasons.

Last fall, I interviewed WKU students with food allergies for a Talisman article. These students did not have a choice. Some of them mentioned eating plain chicken breasts from Chik-fil-A or scraping cheese off of pizza at Papa John’s to avoid allergens. Like me, many of these students opted out of a meal plan their sophomore year. Simply put: a meal plan isn’t for everyone.

In fact, a meal plan can inhibit a student’s well-being. This is the heart of why fining students for not purchasing meal plans is so unfair and, quite frankly, disrespectful. Students deserve the right to make their own choices about something as central as what they eat three times a day, especially whey they’re paying for it. The lack of benefit to students is the biggest point of contention with this fee.

Brian Kuster, vice president of student affairs, told the Herald the fee is a part of the effort to generate $35 million to renovate Garrett Conference Center. It isn’t fair to push the financial burden of renovating a campus facility onto students who don’t want or need a meal plan anyway and, therefore, will not benefit from the renovations.

While the promise of “expanding meal options” sounds great, I don’t want it. Honestly, I’m good. You can have your soggy salads, tiny portions and spongy tofu.

Letter by Hannah Good