My Senior Gift Pictorally: Sad Meals

The Conversation

I wonder....


I was just thinking...will I have quality food again before I graduate?  I had some a couple of times my freshman year, but since then the food has gotten worse.  Not just that, from August 2001 until now (late Spring 2002) it has gotten more worse, and it's not just 1 or 2 cafeterias—it was all of the ones that I had gone to!  As much money as we have to pay for this food, it should be a whole lot better.   It's bad enough that these have been some of my worst years, but with the myriad of "sad meals" that I've had, it's made my experiences here hellish!

   You know what, you're right! I am going to fill out some comment cards—

Been there, done that. Nothing has changed.

Sad Meals

Sad Meals & Aramark

You may be wondering, what's a "sad meal?"   Well, it's what we have every day when we go to a cafeteria run by Dining Services and therefore Aramark to eat. (And I have come to realize that in order for you to appreciate "good" food and be disturbed by the food here, you had to eat good "home-cooked" meals before you came here. However, many don't know what "real" food tastes like as they grew up on fast-food and other "restaurants.")    The term (to my knowledge) was first used by family and I in 1995 (while we were at Berea College) to describe meals with little to no "quality."  And that's one of the many things that has really bothered me since I first arrived, the "sad meals."

It wouldn't have bothered me so much if the first time that I had eaten food at UT was 1997, but it wasn't.   I came here B.A., when the food was good!!   I was surprised about the quality of food when I first ate on campus (B.A.) because of all the horror stories that I had heard about college food.  I found out while I was here during the B.A. period that there was at least 1 college campus in the United States that had good food.  But things have changed because...

UT decided to privatize their our Dining Services.  I am not sure of the reason, but I know that money must have been involved--not much is done here that does not concern money.  I don't think the ends [the lack of "quality" in our food] justifies the means [UT making more money or saving money].  And from the conversations that I have had with other students and the ones that I have overheard, I see that I am not alone in my dislike of the meals prepared by the Aramark-Dining Services partnership.

After doing a little research on Aramark, I found out that they do not have a good "track record."  There are many colleges/universities around the nation that have the same (or similar) problems that we have been having since Aramark arrived.   It was interesting to read that many of the schools had their problems before ours and there were even a few that began having issues with their food "quality" around 1997.  There was even a sexual harassment law suit filed against Aramark in 1997 (I believe).  If you don't believe me, then check out the links on Aramark.  Be sure to check out all of the links because I have included a mixture so that everyone can get a broad view of Aramark and their services.

Comments/Comment Cards

During the spring 2002 semester, I decided to do something that I hadn't done in a long time... fill out comment cards.  Over the 5 years that I have been here, I must have filled out at least 100 or more comment cards, but there were few changes, if any, made after I turned in my cards.  I even made suggestions and comments when the cafeterias had the "Dine with the Director" nights/days, but still nothing was done.   I guess they didn't care what I had to say.

The following is an excerpt of what I wrote to the Directors when they asked for suggestions/comments about Morril's facelift: just because you have a million dollar facelift does not mean that you have a million dollar personality.  (If you don't get the million jewel, then think on it for a few minutes).  It's true and I guess either they now realize it or they are emulating the corporations (and yes UT is one) that offer gimmicks (i.e., free cokes, ice cream, give-aways/contests, "special" dinners, etc.) to get customers to return or come for the first time, after the corporation begins to see a decrease in profits.

Back to the topic at hand... I have filled out numerous comment cards since February 2002 and have included them here.  The comment cards reflect the meals and "quality" of food that I had at Smokey's and Presidential.  Before I wrote those comments I had written about a couple of the experiences that I had while dining at Presidential during the beginning of February 2002.

Quality-Where is It?

You know what I just noticed when I went to the Dining Services Web site: either false advertising, which is illegal or very misleading advertising.    On the first page they use Macromedia Flash to let us know about their "quality" food and the services that they provide.  They use words like "quality" and "variety," why?   Where is the "quality" at? When do we have a "variety" of food?  Maybe I am looking at the wrong Dining Services Web site?!   (written during the Spring 2002 semester - circa February)

Aramark and UT Dining Services, as well as the ADBOT need to be held accountable for what they say and do.   If they tell us that the food that we are getting is "quality," then that is exactly what it should be.  If it's not, then they need to correct the issue and/or problem that causes us not to be receiving "quality" food.  I think that one of the issues is the....

The problem of not having quality food reminds me of what a speaker said during the fall 2000 semester about going to a restaurant or eating in a cafeteria.  He said that when the person that prepares the food cares about you or loves you (in the case of your family or significant other), has a high self-esteem, and likes his/her job it will show in the food!  If this is the case, then this may be a part of the problem that we face concerning the lack of "quality" food at UT.  Remember as I said earlier, the food before Aramark arrived was GOOD!  Since 1997, the food has gotten consistently worse; if you would like to let Aramark and Dining Services know how you feel, then fill out this survey for the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA)!

Aramark/Dining Services' Workers

Let's look at the factors that may cause problems or concerns with the Dining Services' workers:

Work Environment/Conditions: To top it off, they now have to do more with less as many of the workers who worked for UT before Aramark came were not hired back.  Am I forgetting anything?

A Living Wage

Can people live on the minimum wage?

I was told by someone who used to work for Dining Services that she was only paid $4.25 or $4.75/hour.   I see why now!   There is no state minimum wage law for Tennessee.  This means that we have to change the law and policy at the State level before any changes will occur at this University.  I am not sure if the hourly wage has increased for those working for Dining Services or other sectors of the University.

There are some changes that we, the students, can make happen.  We can help implement a living wage for all UT workers. We can also bring about improvements to Dining Services by terminating the contract with Aramark, but I doubt that we have been empowered to sign or terminate contracts, which directly affect us. We will then need to utilize SGA, UGA, GSA, our parents, and UT patrons to ensure that the workers and ALL students will be empowered, that we (workers and students) will be paid a non-poverty wage. We will need to work directly with Aramark and Dining Services, as well as ADBOT to change the adverse conditions of the work environment (eliminating the harassment and threats from the managers to their employees, etc.) and bringing about true worker empowerment.  These are only the stepping stones or starting blocks from which we can begin. And I am sure that there are many other changes that need to take place.

UT should take pride in their employees and should care enough about ALL of their employees to pay them a living wage!  There are many living wage campaigns occurring in both large and small cities, so we should not feel alone in fighting for the rights of workers.  A living wage is only the beginning!  If you would like to learn more about the wages that the University workers receive and the living wage campaign, then read this study. Adobe Acrobat Reader 
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To truly understand the living wage and how it relates to the greater struggle, you may also want to read corporations and Europe: a new 'big idea' (Published: 01/11/2001; Author: Caroline Lucas).

Last Modified: 30 October 2007 EST