Food Service on Campus: Public goods or private profit?
Photo Credit/Dwight Burdette
Like at many other Canadian universities, the University of Toronto’s campus food services are primarily maintained through private partnerships. These agreements help the university save time, money and ideally should improve the student body’s food experience. Nonetheless, it is often hard to tell where your money is going when you make purchases on campus, or why food tends to cost so much.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the massive shift toward private contracts in university food services is Aramark Ltd. A multinational corporation that grossed $13.5 billion in sales last year, Aramark sits as #1441 in Forbes Global 2000 (just above US Steel for a little perspective). Aramark operates franchises all across campus, which is what allows you to use Meal Plans at seemingly independent restaurants. Pizza Pizza, Tim Hortons and Bento Nouveau are all on campus because of deals they reached with Aramark.
If a company is making such massive profits, and operates on campuses across the country, does that make them best suited for the job? The answer is not simple, because while working with Aramark does free up university resources for other activities, the motives of a profit-driven company on campus are dubious at best. For one thing, having multiple franchises operate under the same corporation in close proximity raises some interesting issues with regards to competition. Though Aramark explicitly forbids price-fixing—which would involve agreements between institutions to set prices artificially high—it is a bit hard to believe that a massive corporate presence on campus doesn’t give them some level of control over how much they can charge for food.
Then there is Aramark’s questionable track-record. Aramark has been the centre of a number of troubling scandals across North America, oftentimes for prioritizing profit over quality. For example, they are one of the largest providers of meal services to prisons in the United States, and last year a number of legal cases were brought against them for misconduct and endangering inmates. In August 2014, Aramark was fined $200,000 by the state of Michigan due to “unacceptable” problems, including serving food containing maggots and employee misconduct. Then in October, allegations were brought against the corporation for allegedly firing an employee after she alerted them to quality control issues with the food.
I make no claims that health and safety practices at U of T even approach these examples. However, it is troubling to know that in simply buying a coffee on campus I am contributing to a corporation that participates in such immoral business practices. Perhaps from the practical perspective of the university, private-public partnerships are a necessary evil, but as a student these are things that we at least have the right to know about. If you don’t want to contribute to these practices, then the first step is to become aware of U of T’s relationship with Aramark and that you have the option not to participate in it. Take the time to think about your buying power, what you want it to represent, and whether you would be better served by taking your money elsewhere.comments powered by Disqus