Offensive School Lunches For Black History Month Are Already Back On The Menu

With February upon us, many organizations have shifted their marketing efforts to include a celebration of Black History Month. And while the attempt to be inclusive is applauded, like Pride celebrations in June, company efforts can cross over into territory that feels like pandering at best or insensitive at worst. Sadly, the latter was the case for food service vendor Aramark.

According to Today, on the first day of Black History Month, Aramark served the students at Nyack Middle School "chicken and waffles' with a serving of watermelon for dessert. Needless to say, that did not go over well. The reason it caused such an uproar is due to the selected foods being tied to racial stereotyping. According to The Boston Globe, the association between Black people with chicken and watermelon was sparked from racial resentment of Black entrepreneurship after The Civil War. To make money, former enslaved Black people would sell home-cooked meals that often included fried chicken to white railroad passengers at the train stops. Watermelon was another successful crop for many formerly enslaved Blacks in the South. 

Let's look at how that success resulted in the trope and whether or not Aramark has a history of this behavior.

Origins of the issue

After Black entrepreneurs found success, disgusting caricatures began gaining ground in the culture of cartoons and household products (via The Boston Globe). Since watermelon and fried chicken are traditionally finger foods, they painted the food and black people as "uncouth and unclean." Given that backdrop, the controversy around Aramark using these foods to represent black culture for Black History makes more sense.

According to ABC 7, a student questioned why they were being served this food, especially since the fruit was not in season. After discussing it with her mother, they both become upset. Once the incident got out, Aramark offered an apology stating, "This was a mistake and did not represent the values of our company, and we are committed to doing better in the future" (via The Boston Globe). With the released apology, it could be easy to forgive this as an unintentional mistake if this was the first time. Sadly, this is not Aramark's first infraction of racial insensitivity. In 2018, the company offered a menu of "barbecue ribs, cornbread, collard greens, Kool-Aid, and watermelon-flavored water" for students at New York University during Black History Month. Even then, they apologized and committed to doing better in the future. 

Many questions about how this could get approved by the school. The school responded by saying, administrators offered an apology stating they "don't typically look at the menus with scrutiny, but going forward they will."