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Minority groups vie for food approval

Feb. 1, 2001

ARAMARK: Safety, sanitation of food are top concerns



Sometimes cookies and lemonade just won't cut it, especially when the menu calls for authentic and ethnic cuisine.

Several minority organizations said they have encountered problems when dealing with ARAMARK, Baylor's exclusive food vendor. Student organizations such as the African Students Association and the Vietnamese Students Association have had trouble getting ARAMARK to approve food at their events.

'We have events, but we don't have food,' said Bernice Darko, a junior from Ghana and president of the African Students Association. 'We don't have the money to spend $100 on cookies and lemonade. It's not every day that we want cookies and lemonade.'

ARAMARK representatives said the main reason for the policy restricting outside food is health regulations. ARAMARK has no way to ensure that food brought in is safe for consumption.

'The biggest reason is the safety and sanitation of the food,' said Jerry Finch, food services director. 'We have to go through rigorous standards for the consumption of the food we serve. Basically, that's the only reason.'

ARAMARK, which has been at Baylor since 1949, is currently the sole supplier of all the food on campus. A new contract was negotiated about a year ago for a 10-year contract between Baylor and ARAMARK.

'We've had such good relations,' said Ken Simons, business manager. 'ARAMARK has always been very responsive in meeting students' needs.'

Simons said he believes that ARAMARK has no problem working with student organizations.

'We try to work with all the groups and allow them to bring in their own food, as long as it's not another vendor that's selling to the group,' Simons said. 'Usually groups contact us and let us know what they want to do, and we work it out.'

Finch said ARAMARK 'tries to help out considerably' with groups wishing to bring in their own food, but that he feels 'there needs to be a set of rules that govern it.'

When Darko tried to get food approved at ASA's one-year anniversary celebration last February, she recalls experiencing many obstacles for ARAMARK's approval.

'We went through a whole lot before we could have food for that one time,' Darko said. 'Most of the time they'll end up agreeing with it, but you have to go through so much.'

Darko said ARAMARK's policies have discouraged ASA from doing many things they want to do, from holding special events to having mixers in the Bill Daniel Student Center.

'It's discouraged us from doing things ... We can't even do [events] at the [student center] anymore because we have to go through so much,' Darko said. 'We wanted to have an anniversary celebration, but we ended up not doing it. It would be a hassle anyway.'

The Vietnamese Students Association experienced similar obstacles in approving Vietnamese food at its annual Autumn Moon Festival. Again, ARAMARK's main concern was the safety of the food.

'The policies are too strict and don't allow for minority student organizations to have food at their functions,' said Phong Vu, a Tyler junior and president of VSA. 'They need to work with students rather than against them.'

When Vu asked ARAMARK last October for approval for authentic Vietnamese food at the festival, he said he was told that ARAMARK would make the food if given the list of ingredients.

'All of our food for Autumn Moon comes from our parents. There's no way ARAMARK could make Vietnamese food the way my mom makes it,' Vu said. 'Have you tasted the Asian food in Penland? It's horrible.'

ASA is currently planning a fund-raiser to raise money for education in Africa. The event is to be held at the Harrington House, and African art pieces will be sold. Darko wants to have African food for people to sample, but is skeptical that ARAMARK will approve it.

Finch said there are numerous ways for students to get involved with ARAMARK and have their voices heard.

The Food Services Committee meets once a month, when representatives from each facility on campus, like the McLane Student Life Center or Penland Cafeteria, attend the meeting, and students are always encouraged to attend. The next Food Services Committee meeting will be held at 4 p.m. on Feb. 6 in the Gregory Room behind Barfield Drawing Room in the student center.

There is also a monthly luncheon, a less formal environment than the meeting, held at the student center. Representatives are also present at the luncheon to discuss issues with students. The next luncheon is scheduled for Feb. 15.

A food services link on the Baylor Web site also contains an e-mail address where students can address dining concerns or simply compliment the food.

Finch encourages students to take advantage of all the opportunities provided by dining services for student feedback.

'We get both positive and constructive comments from students,' Finch said. 'The more immediate feedback comes from the people that just come in for lunch.'

Darko said she plans on attending the next Food Services Committee meeting to address her concerns about organizations being able to being in their own food as well as offer her own suggestions.

'They should at least bring down their prices,' Darko said. 'Hopefully, there will be more lenient standards and requirements. There should be more leeway for ethnic organizations.'

from ARAMARK page 1