Philly cheesesteak, broccoli, and fruit were supposed to be on the lunch menu at a New York middle school on Wednesday. Instead, a food vendor is now apologizing after serving an entirely different lunch at Nyack Middle School that day, which also happened to be the first day of Black History Month. The "racially insensitive" meal that has jump-started the controversy, per CBS News: chicken and waffles, with a dessert of watermelon, an offering that immediately raised a red flag with sixth-grader Honore Santiago. "They were asking people if they want watermelon and I remember being confused because it's not in season," she tells WABC.
The school's principal, who tells the outlet that the food items "reinforce negative stereotypes concerning the African-American community," noted the menu had been changed by food vendor Aramark without notifying school officials. Wilbur Aldridge of the Nyack NAACP says that if just the chicken and waffles had been served, "I don't know that we would be having this conversation," per CBS. "But the moment you add in the watermelon, that changed the whole complexion, literally." This isn't Aramark's first time raising eyebrows with its meal choices, either.
In 2011, the vendor served chicken and waffles at UC Irvine on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, per NBC News. Then, New York University cut ties with the vendor in 2018 after Aramark served students ribs, collard greens, cornbread, and watermelon-flavored water during Black History Month. Workers in that case were fired. "I thought they learned from their last mistake, but I guess not," Honore says. In a letter home to parents, officials from Nyack Middle School called the most recent incident "inexcusably insensitive," per WABC. In its own statement, Aramark notes, "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."
James Montesano, the interim school superintendent for Nyack Public Schools, says Aramark has vowed to partner with the school to offer training for its workers. Aramark also notes the training in its statement, promising that it will "[align] 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." (Read more Aramark stories.)