Author; Brennan E. Wells;
Chick-Fil-A has a slogan that is often posted on the walls in many of its establishments, which states, that” food is essential to life, therefore make it good”. At best this would be wishful thinking for many HBCU students to expect the same in their dining halls. Notably, Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M University students who experience Sodexo Dining Services on a daily basis can count on their experience being soul wrenchingly unacceptable. This is so because these universities have rated the quality of food they receive as an “F”. Thoughtful While Black has obtained this information from a reliable source that wishes to remain unnamed for fear of reprisal.
Further, Sodexo Dining Services has a long and troubled history, not only with HBCUs but across the United States. For instance, in 2010 Sodexo was caught fomenting a race to the bottom in the food service industry, by choosing food suppliers based not on quality but based on which supplier could return to them the highest profit. This in effect meant big agriculture and big businesses would benefit while small farmers and local producers were frozen out. Additionally, April 4th, 2014 a student at Loyola Marymount found a parasite in his salmon and was told it was a “vein”. The student in question was told that something would be done, despite evidence to back up that promise. These and many other instances highlight the history of this food service behemoth. So why I ask is this business allowed to operate at many HBCUs in the country? Even more to this point, why are HBCUs allowing Sodexo to operate still to this day?
For as long as I can remember HBCUs have operated in tandem with Sodexo and their services. Other students when asked assert the same. The union of HBCUs and Sodexo’s services is an occurrence rooted in lackluster alumni giving, decreasing funds from State Legislatures, and an emphasis on balancing accounting books, rather than generating new revenue. Sodexo offers cheap services and HBCUs looking to cut expenses are eager to cut a deal. But as we all should know, you get what you pay for.
To add insult to poor food quality, students who work at Sodexo to subsidize their college costs are not paid a living wage. For a reference point, the living wage in the United States is $15 an hour. Hence, students are required to resolve a work-study-life balance that is a hindrance to academic performance, all the while not being properly compensated. This is not to say, that a work-study-life balance cannot be done, it only presumes that the task more difficult than need be. More burdensome than a work-study-life balance while working at the library, tutoring center, or working for an academic department.
Furthermore, Sodexo in an expected fashion of a monopoly signs excessively long service agreements ensuring a steady stream of revenue. Compounded with this problem are the increasing prices that Sodexo charges, under the auspices that food and the cost of living are increasing. One has to wonder why salaries do not increase with the same fury? For students attending PVAMU and residing on campus, those students are forced to accept a meal plan. I cannot speak for other HBCUs in this respect, however, if these practices are allowed at PVAMU, there is no telling what is allowed at other HBCUs under the umbrella of “good business”.
The most heart-wrenching part of this long saga of HBCUs offering poor food quality is that it is accepted. PWIs who used Sodexo services have seen the inferior product that is offered, learn from their mistakes and part ways with Sodexo. This cannot be said for many HBCUs. I myself a Student Senator while attending PVAMU authored legislation to begin the process of removing Sodexo in search of a better food provider. At the writing of this article, Thought While Black has it on good authority from an inside source, that no action has been taken on this legislation. Therefore, some of the blame for this particular problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the SGA administrations that take no action, HBCU administrations that seek no effective action, and students who have not advocated for change.
Food is essential for life, why then is the food offered at numerous HBCUs of inferior quality? Aren’t HBCU students deserving of better? We cannot allow unimaginative administrators, feckless leaders, and others who stand in the way of progress to keep away this essential human need from HBCU students. You deserve better, I hope that you demand better.