On March 8th, women’s day 2019, a group of students from the Western Washington University gathered up to rally against the University’s food contractor. In the midst of the protest, some students had to be taken to a health center after eating a pasta meal that had been secretly laced with marijuana.
The boycott was part of an international day of action organized by 5 different colleges, in which students were invited to refrain from eating at Aramark’s campus facilities. Aramark Corporation is a food service provider that operates in 20 countries and ranked 27th on 2018’s Fortune 500 list.
According to the student’s online petition, the multi-billion dollar corporation holds a near-monopoly on all campus food-facilities and has a history of mistreating student employees at WWU.
A Sensible Request Gone Wrong
Although the student protestors had a special interest in making the college community aware of the corporation’s near-monopoly in regards to a 2021 contract renewal opportunity, the main complaints against Aramark’s laid on the company’s ties with the Prison-Industrial Complex and its lack of transparency and accountability.
Aramark runs over 500 dining operations in prisons across the country and holds contracts with big food corporations. Being almost the only food provider on campus, the students disapproved of the quality of the food being served and claimed that given the disproportionate number of incarcerated people of color, the company’s business model thrives on white supremacy.
Anticipating the University’s contract with Aramark to expire on 2021, the student organization is proposing a self-operated dining system in which “WWU would instead directly hire dining management and staff which would allow for more transparency, accountability, and equity for WWU students and community members.”
When a Protest Backfires
The students gathered up at the University’s Red Square at 11 am. According to a Facebook post made by the student organization after the events occurred, “some community members showed up with their own table and prepared food to share with boycott participants. One of the foods being served was pesto pasta. We have just become aware that this pasta contained some kind of marijuana and we are working on finding and contacting the individuals who brought this food.”
The post adds that one of the organizers who had a small serving of the laced pasta felt “extreme effects” and was unable to participate in the action. Other students who also ingested the dish had to be taken to the health center.
However, the organization’s main regret was that, on top of having members of their community intoxicated, the attention was deflected from their original demand:
“We are disappointed and frustrated that this incident occurred and led to difficult situations for some people and derailed the focus of the action itself.”