ARAMARK, i’m glad you’re here. please, have a seat.

my last post made its way back to ARAMARK…I figured this one would too. Must have been the embedding of the dancing faux squirrel fox. Might as well cut to the, here we go…

my opinion and your integrity need to have an open discussion.

I see from your website that you are aggressively trending alongside the public’s demand for better school lunches. Unfortunately, it seems that your company has grossly underestimated  these same people and their acumen for clicking away from one browser,  going to another,  and reading.

By that, I mean, the warm and fuzzy “we care, too” message fed to the customers, public interest groups and parents; versus the comments and “uh-oh” statements tucked away in your most recent SEC filings report to your shareholders. The path connecting one idea to the other, isn’t so clear. What you are not saying, highlights the shortcomings in what you are saying. In order to maintain a good, solid business with a healthy reputation and image, you should at least try to stay consistent with both interests equally aligned. Because you appear to be a smart bunch of people, I’m confident you already know this. The fact that you are probably acutely aware of what I am saying,  makes this issue that much more offensive.

Thanks to your comprehensive research and marketing team, your company can now be easily equated to that of the chicken nugget you so adamantly root for. Please consider this long-winded and tedious to follow analogy:

On the outside, that nugget is supposed to be fun, visually appealing , good for you, baked not fried and wholesome. But after really looking at (and into) that nugget, we learn that it is nothing but a mechanically separated, “previously-fried-just-not-at-school”, additive pumped, extender needing, binder filled, somewhat poultry-ish nightmare that requires millions of dollars and a team of   lazy,  pretending to work but were really on facebook  well-intentioned, public relations experts to convince your customers that it is, indeed, chicken. (whew…now replace “nugget” for “aramark”)

It appears that you may have also taken for granted, the attention span of us parents. I realize you are very busy, so it is quite possible you have not been fully briefed. In giving you the benefit of the doubt, I feel it only fair to help you understand what is actually going on. (…are you hearing me? eyes here. pay attention.)

So here we go….

The just a mom in mesquite’s “grab and go express” bullet-pointed list of what she feels are hypocritical issues for the business persons with limited time on their hands and who ignore the school lunch situation by dodging the point …with bonus media.

 (This platform could help my speed delivering  you this message…in some cases, by 30%. While it is not a complete message , due to that taking way too much time…and the cost of my time; it does, however, meet and or exceed the minimum requirements for making a valid point. Please note, my point is a cumulation of many points from many different angles around the country. For your benefit, I have crammed them all into one convenient post. In an effort to give my point the appearance and texture of that an educated and important person may make,  I will sometimes interject big and or smart sounding words. I have added my sense of humor as an after-thought  to help you choke it down.  Also, for time issues, quotes from your public friendly website will be in red. Ones from your sec will be in blue.)
  • About your focus:

We have a responsibility and the expertise to help educate, enable and encourage people of all ages to adopt healthier eating practices and more active lifestyles to help in the fight against obesity and other diseases.

Actually, you don’t. Your responsiblity lies within the delivering of safe, healthy, quality food. That’s it. You make the food. Education is for educators and parents. All you have to do is make sure the food is safe and healthy. You have no business creating worksheets, lesson plans for teachers, decorating cafeterias (at a ridiculous cost to taxpayers), sending men in squirrel fox suits to school, giving live shows, or pretending to be school district consultants.

Why? Because you make the food. Squeezing yourself into this area is an obvious sales marketing attempt. The development of your “cool caf” , “12 spot”, and “U.B.U. lounge” is just a fancy way of ensuring schools continue their contract. Instead of just making a safer product, you keep it the same, add a “lounge” to the cafeteria and stamp healthy on it. This is called a diversion.

 On the other hand, if you disagree, and you would like to help enable our students adopt healthier eating practices…then by all means, knock yourselves out. You can start by…making healthier food. More specifically, healthier food for the schools you supply.

  • On  food safety:

 That focus drives us, too. With healthful meals, exciting dining programs, and safe, clean, comfortable surroundings, you’ll see the tangible results of our expertise in the K-12 food and facilities.

Genuine concern for your schools because we are part of your community.

  There are a variety of regulations at  various governmental levels relating to the handling, preparation and serving of food including in some cases regulations relating to the temperature of food, the cleanliness of the kitchen, and the hygiene of personnel which are enforced primarily at the local public health department level. While we attempt to comply with applicable laws and regulations, we cannot assure you we are in full compliance at all times with the applicable laws and regulations referenced above. (pg. 10)

  •  On Outsourcing,  what you mean by “perceive”, and why you may not love the lunch lady:

In addition to helping control costs, outsourcing can engage and empower district employees, enhance the quality of food and facility operations, and strengthen the connection with the community. In the end, strong partnerships can be formed that assist school districts in cultivating and sustaining safe places to learn, socialize, and grow.

Our business and growth strategies depend in large part on the continuation of a current trend toward outsourcing services. Customers will outsource if they perceive that outsourcing may provide higher quality services at a lower overall cost and permit them to focus on their core business activities. (pg. 16)

In addition, existing or potential clients may elect to self-operate their food service, eliminating the opportunity for us to serve them or compete for the account. (pg. 17)

  • On the confusion centered around why Tara can’t have her ingredient list:

We provide training to food service staff to increase awareness and understanding of food allergies and we are committed to assisting customers to make informed food choices by providing accurate ingredient information to the best of our ability.

Upon request, we share with customers all ingredients that go into our final product. However, there are situations where customers may have an allergic reaction due to factors outside of ARAMARK’s control.

  • On why I wrote this:

Because in all of the pages of information you supply, you don’t actually say you are going to change the food. You have no solid (from what I can see) plan to stop providing pre-packaged stuff. As a matter of fact, you act like you don’t even have anything to do with the food. Instead, you offer up new educational plans, poorly executed (and I mean baaad) websites to teach kids to make better food choices..and speaking of that website, really suggest they eat berries and peas? That’s your nutrition tip. Do you serve berries and peas at school? Why isn’t this month’s tip not paying homage to the “pancake on a stick w/ maple syrup”? I want to see Ace pass a test because of his fiesta nachos, chocolate milk, and peaches in syrup…and then, if you do not mind,  I would like to see  the research backing it up.

How about the fuel4me? You list menus of what you strive to do…and then push berries and peas.  And to show you what I mean, let’s look at Lewisville ISD’s (my neck of the woods) ARAMARK school:

Am I to assume glazed donuts, pop tarts and pigs in a blanket are the way to improved test scores? Any reason why the disclaimer is on the website? “You acknowledge and agree that the Lewisville Independent School District and ARAMARK are not responsible for and cannot guarantee the accuracy of any of the nutritional information contained on this site.”  And about that catering business you have advertised…..

  • To  reiterate and bring this back to HealthyTara and District 300:

A Gogurt stick and animal crackers make a really crappy breakfast; as does a Trix cereal bar and animal crackers;  and Golden grahams and animal crackers. Especially when you charge $1.50 ($2.00 w/the milk). Insult to injury? That catering thing  is back…and I can get a dozen bagels and cream cheese for the office if I wanted to at only $8.00… or $.67 each. Price if I’m a kid eating a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast at school? $1.50…hmmm. What? The kid also gets string cheese to eat with his cream cheese? ummm…oh.

  • So, let’s recap:

I understand your challenges. Before I became “just a mom in mesquite”, I was “just a mom working as a manager for a large heavily marketed global company” myself. Perhaps you are feeling the following: You see the buzz going on about the school lunches. You’re thinking it’s a phase and you are waiting it out. Someone along the way convinced you to market a not-so-thought out plan with no relevent value to the issues. You gave the public a band-aid, via a dancing animal man. It’s the only way you can differentiate yourself, look like you care, and not have to spend too much money. You see chaos with the television and media coverage. Petitions don’t bother you much, yet. You probably understand that even if Congress decides to extend extra money to the nutrition program, you will still not offer what the parents are asking…healthier food. You can’t afford to.  Healthier food means actually cooking it on site. Well, maybe you can afford to, but your bonus may get smaller. You have probably spent way too much  money on free exercise/calorie wheels and collectors cards. All it really means is that you do not have to bid so low to get contracts. It also means you get to spend less time convincing people that a kid eating a glazed donut or pop tart at school is completely different and much healthier than them eating it at home or on the way to school. That is of course, unless anyone were to find out about commissions. You hope nobody realizes you just charged  over a dollar for a pop tart.  It’s a very tricky situation.

  • So what to do now?

How about get rid of everything non-food related and really worry about food. Ever consider that parents would possibly push for your services if you served a quality product? Maybe actually try to run your business with integrity. If, not, at the very least, own up to what you’re doing… and not doing. That would be more impressive.  Maybe consider changing your motto to “yeah, our food sucks, we know…gotta better plan?” Maybe reconsider your stance on environmental stewardship and agree that the over use of flyers, extra electronic visual displays, excessive packaging of foods, sacks for lunches and styrofoam trays are counter-productive. Or maybe realize that you are taking advantage of all things school lunch related. Take accountability. 

Possibly in the near future, you may start trying to boost employee moral (’cause this is going to be hard) and splurge on some of those encouragement-type posters to hang around the office. That one up above with the cute dangling cat that says “hang in there” usually makes me happy. In the mean time, while you get that underway, I’ll  try not to let Tara know just how easy it is to start that bill.

I understand that your personal stake in all of this may be very important to you. However, you need to understand mine and that…

Never, in a million years, will I sit quietly and allow your profits, bonuses, and investments to trump my own personal interest and investment when it comes to the health and well-being of my child. Ever.

If that still does not resonate with you, please repeat about 350 million times…or once for each meal you provide to a child. If, after that, you still do not feel like  it makes sense, have an assistant or the person sitting next to you write it down on your hand with a permanent marker using your favorite color. Next, try attaching noisy bells to your wrists, these look cool;  just don’t forget to make it fun! Some studies suggest that children people can learn and remember to make better health related decisions when they are engaged with bright colors and obnoxious distractions.

If at this point , you are confused and you cannot believe I had the audacity to undermine your intelligence; and you are wondering who the heck  I think I am to be so condescending…then congratualtions, we’re finally on the same page.

 Welcome to the  revolution.

Thanks to the adding of keywords at the bottom of my post and within the text, I can be sure this will be fast tracked to you and all relevent folks via yours/their news monitoring services…such as ARAMARK , RMX , Goldman Sachs , investor relations , FDA , USDA , allergen, labeling , compliance , leveraged , fortune magazine , ethical , environmental , HealthyTara , Mrs. Q , The Tara Act, education, K-12 , Jennifer Adach, Shiriki K. Kumanyika, Lynn Parker, Jamie Oliver, food revolution, food and nutrition board, child nutrition act, national school lunch program, NSLP, food research and action center, FRAC, food insecurity, healthierus school challenge, let’s move, michelle obama, institute of medicine, ADA, IOM, chef ann, the lunchbox, Mendy Heaps, Susan Rubin , Two Angry Moms , Simple, Good and Tasty , slow food usa,  district 300, dallas, texas, lewisville, mesquite, healthy schools campaign, sysco, and last but not least, Don’t Mess With Texas.
*all of the aramark quotes can be found on aramarks corporate website under the “services”, “press room”, “investor relations”, “u.s. business sites”, and “social responsibility”.

10 Comments to “ARAMARK, i’m glad you’re here. please, have a seat.”

  1. And, I’d like to add that I’m not a health nut. Sure, I’m vegetarian myself, but for ethical reasons – not health ones 🙂 And, the kids eat meat, until they’re old enough to make their own health & ethics decisions on that matter.

    Additionally, for my family, the ‘unhealthiness’ of the school lunch isn’t that big of a deal. My milk-allergic son can’t eat the lunch at school because I can’t get ingredient info from them to know that it’s safe for him. My daughter thinks of school lunch as a ‘treat’. She only gets it twice a week and, you can be sure, she chooses her meals on whether they are ‘yummy’ not whether they are healthy (although, she does, sometimes, choose the salad – which is kind of cool). I know that an unhealthy meal every once in a while isn’t going to break her. We make up the difference with healthy meals at home (most of the time).

    There are low income kids in our district, though, who do rely on school breakfast & lunch to make up the bulk of their nutritional requirements. For them… I wish I had said more at the focus group marketing thing.

  2. Oh, dear lord, I wish that I had found you & Tara two days ago…

    Just yesterday morning, our PTO Council meeting was hijacked by an Aramark marketing focus group… I, politely, bit my tongue through much of it, having my own bad experience with getting ingredient information from our Aramark rep earlier in the year and not wanting to take over their marketing study with my own personal issues.

    Now, I am wishing that I had said more. So much more.

  3. adam…i have replied to your questions in today’s post.

  4. BRAVO! this manifesto needs to be broadcast far and wide. Many other parents share your sentiments.

  5. II used to consult to the school districts and the contract management companies and have worked with the USDA for 15 years prior to doing consulting. I am now semi-retire, but have a good knowledge of the industry.I think your food revolution is going after the wrong target. These companies – Aramark, Sodexo and you name it develop and offer their menus based on the district requirements. They need to serve the USDA required meals under a certain cost to abide by the requirements of the district. Typically, this requires serving milk / juice, a serving of vegetables and or fruit, a serving of protein (meat) and a serving of grain for under $1.25. By the way, this $1.25 should cover the cost of food ingredients, preparation and serving. Of course, as you clearly outlined, it should include profits. You make it sound like these companies are making a killing by doing this. The reality is that their profit margins are between 0.5% and 1.5%. Could they not serve berries, freshly squeezed grape fruit and salmon? Sure they can. The question is how much are you willing to pay more in your taxes to support the food service program of the district? Would you be willing to pay another $1-$2 per day for lunch? Better question is – what percentage of the parents would be willing or can afford an additional $1-$2 per day? Everyone blames their school food for the growing obesity problem and yet the Fast Food Industry is continuing to grow… thanks to the overwhelming demand by parents seeking convenience over health.You’re advocating the food service should concentrate on the food aspect rather than marketing kids the benefits of healthy eating with glitzy cafes and websites. Yet, apparently you fail to understand the holistic approach that is required to change the behavior of children. Just because you serve berries at school does not mean the students will actually eat them. Don’t get me wrong – maybe your children will, because they have been brought up by a mom who has had tremendous upbringing skills and used to be an executive in the corporate world. But the reality is 99% of the kids do require a holistic approach. If you do not believe me – just check out what Mc Donald’s have done with the Happy Meals and the play grounds and kid friendly initiatives. I actually checked out CoolCaf and have been impressed with what they have done to promote health and wellness through Fruit and Veggie Carts and other wellness related messaging and promotions. At the least, it is better than not doing anything. Children require multiple touch points and repetition. Even if 20% of the messaging sticks, it is better than nothing. Now – let’s discuss the food revolution:1) I realize blogging is the “fashionable” way of getting your message across and maybe even getting some tabloid, but have you communicated your concerns to the district and have a clear understanding of their requirements and constraints of the food service program?2) Did you request / meet with the management of the Food Service program? 3) Maybe you can also contact your state representatives to make sure the USDA school lunch program is managed and funded properly?

  6. oops I meant revolution! I’m so fed up with our govt. telling us we need to stop being obese and get out there and move and then they put USDA guidelines in place that let people feed our children CRAP! Let’s get in their faces, I’m done letting this happen to my kids and yours.

  7. Our schools don’t use Aramark but their menus are still abominable. Thanks for keeping the revelution going.

  8. Well said! As a former contract food manager for the biggest competitor of Aramark (Marriott) I can say that they ALL use the same techniques to increase profits. EVERY SINGLE decision made, big or small, is all about the bottom line. Every one. I changed careers because I could no longer, in good conscious, not do what was RIGHT instead of what would make the most money. Every point you made is 100% on the money. I am a teacher now and the single worst thing I have to do is lunch duty… because I am forced to see the CRAP that is for sale and consumed by our children. All in the name of profit. Not only do these companies need to fix the food, our school boards, administrators, teachers and parents need to speak up at every single opportunity and give any contractor who continues to serve and sell crap…. um, sorry, I meant “food”, the boot out of our schools… out of our hospitals… out of our nursing homes and out of our workplaces. Aramark, Marriott and the smaller companies have a stranglehold on what you and your family eats… it is time for a food revolution!

  9. Nice firey post MMom!Funny- when I read through the SEC filings and their press releases those same paragraphs leaped out at me. You’re not the only person who see’s the reality and is connecting dots.So- Aramark- if you are listening/reading, know this isn’t going away with a senior graduating (Tara) or a mom running out of time to write (MMom). There will be a tipping point in which the food revolution will force you to change your business model. Yes, we understand. For you it’s about profit. But for us, it’s our lives, our health our future. Hard to put a price on that.

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