A food vendor found itself in hot water after a tweak to a New York school’s menu to kickoff Black History Month was deemed “cultural insensitivity.”
It remains unclear what parents thought their children were going to be served when they showed up to the cafeteria at Nyack Middle School on Feb. 1, but based on reactions, they hadn’t anticipated their kids would would be getting chicken and waffles with a watermelon dessert.
David Johnson, principal of the school located roughly 15 miles north of New York City on the western side of the Hudson River, reacted to the following day in a letter to parents that read, “We are extremely disappointed by this regrettable situation and apologize to the entire Nyack community for the cultural insensitivity displayed by our food service provider.”
“I am disappointed that Aramark would serve items that differed from the published monthly menu. Especially items that reinforce negative stereotypes concerning the African-American Community,” he added.
As reported by WABC, the current menu posted to the schools website shows cheese steak, broccoli and fruit as the planned menu item for Feb. 1, but a previous iteration from January that included the first days of February showed chicken and waffles being served with zucchini, baked beans and banana.
Speaking with the outlet, student Honore Santiago explained that she told her mother about the offering when she got home and was confused about the watermelon “because it’s not in season.”
They were both reportedly outraged and Santiago added the decision “made the kids feel bad; especially, like, the kids that are my color.”
Lindsay Siegal, parent to a sixth-grader at Nyack Middle School told The Journal News, “I’m surprised it wasn’t caught,” and, “It’s really disappointing.”
Nyack NAACP President Nicole Hines weighed in, “The chicken and waffles and watermelon is a stereotype to black folks, African-Americans, because that’s what they think that we like or what we eat all the time.”
Following the backlash, Aramark released a statement to apologize and said, “While our menu was not intended as a cultural meal, we acknowledge that the timing was inappropriate, and our team should have been more thoughtful in its service. This was a mistake and does not represent the values of our company, and we are committed to doing better in the future.”
To ameliorate the situation, the vendor communicated to the school district that their employees would undergo sensitivity training tailored to the diversity, equity and inclusion desires established there “so employees who work in the schools participate in training that aligns to the Nyack School District’s vision and commitment to equity-driven work.”
“We believe this will provide a good learning opportunity to deepen understanding on the impact of systemic biases and negative stereotypes concerning the African-American Community,” Aramark suggested.
Nyack’s interim school Superintendent James Montesano expressed how the district was “extremely disappointed” but was grateful for the vendor’s response to outrage and said in part, “we are encouraged to receive the appropriate response from Aramark in taking corrective action, which includes demonstrating their willingness to participate in training that the district will provide.”
According to the Journal, this wasn’t the first time Aramark had committed such an offense as in 2018 the vendor had offered up ribs, collard greens and Kool-Aid at an NYU dining hall during Black History Month and in 2011 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day they served chicken and waffles to students at the University of California, Irvine.
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