Brock Meade: Corporate food-service contract wrong choice for UK

March 10, 2014 

Brock Meade, a junior sociology major at the University of Kentucky, is active in United Students Against Sweatshops.

  • At issue: Feb. 5 Herald-Leader article, "UK plans to privatize dining facilities; Vendor's mission will include local food"

Since March 2013, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and the Dining Revitalization Committee have pursued the privatization of UK Dining Services despite protest from students, faculty, staff, farmers, alumni and other community members.

What privatization could mean for UK Dining Services is the transfer of our food sovereignty to multinational food-services corporations such as Aramark, Compass or Sodexo. These companies have poor track records:

■ Aramark's poor quality food was the major reason for a 2009 prison riot near Danville.

■ Compass settled out of court with the United Nations in 2006 in a fraud and bribery lawsuit, for which individuals resigned and were fired.

■ Sodexo has been cited by the National Labor Relations Board for violations; some have been cleared others have not.

For these reasons and others, the campus and civic communities of Lexington have voiced their disgust with the privatization of dining. However, Capilouto put business first when he announced recently that he intends to privatize.

The problem with the upfront capital required to build new dining facilities is a constructed one. Over the past several years, UK has experienced increased enrollment, yet there are fewer spaces for students to eat. Last year, Messer Construction demolished the historic Haggin Hall and K-Lair Grill to make space for a new dorm.

Since March 2013, UK United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and allies have been campaigning against the privatization of UK dining. In the fall of 2013, the continued voicing of concerns and other delays pushed back the timeline to winter of 2013 for continued consideration.

Although Capilouto has made his declaration, it has never been more clear that companies like Aramark, Compass and Sodexo don't have a place at UK.

On Feb. 7 and Feb. 8, UK USAS visited Austin for the USAS national conference to discuss nationwide issues. Last fall, students effectively pressured the administration at the University of Texas at Austin to not outsource their dining services. UK students and administrators should learn from their example. Make no mistake, while food-service corporations have access to capital to invest in dining facilities on K-Lair's ashes, they make their profits through forcing meal plans, cutting food quality and reducing dining worker compensation.

We, as a UK community, demand adequate representation in this process. There are numerous financial alternatives that UK could consider to circumvent problems that have been created, and we demand that UK reject privatization of dining.

Brock Meade, a junior sociology major at the University of Kentucky, is active in United Students Against Sweatshops.

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