Students at an upstate New York middle school were fed chicken and waffles, with a side of watermelon, on the first day of Black History month last week. And while it’s not the first time the vendor responsible for the meal has served stereotypical Black foods to students during Black History Month, it insists the timing of the menu was pure coincidence.
Aramark, the food vendor for Nyack Middle School in Rockland County, served youngsters the foods stereotypically associated with Black people and their cultural eating habits. The meal wasn’t even scheduled to be served to students, according to a lunch menu posted on the school’s website, but was swapped in for seemingly no reason.
After parents at the school complained about the meal, Aramark swiftly issued an apology.
“We apologize for the unintentional insensitivity shown on February 1, the first day of Black History Month,” the vendor said in a statement shared through the school’s website a day after the meal was served. “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.”
In a letter sent home to parents last week, Nyack Middle School Principal David A. Johnson called the meal “inexcusably insensitive,” and said the school will ensure the vendor doesn’t do it again.
“Nyack Public Schools administrators contacted Aramark officials to insist on a mechanism to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s mistake,” the letter reads. “The vendor has agreed to plan future menu offerings to align with our values and our long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Despite the wide variety of foods traditionally cooked by Black Americans originating from all over the Black diaspora, fried chicken and waffles—as well as collard greens, watermelon, and Kool-Aid—have long been used by racist institutions to reference and reinforce negative stereotypes about Black people.
While these soul food staples have become American staples that are enjoyed by people of nearly all races today, presenting these foods during the one time of year set aside for improving the understanding of Black existence in a country rife with brutally racist history is an offensive gesture repeated on nearly an annual basis.
Aramark in particular should be very familiar with how presenting these options during Black history month can be perceived. In 2018, the company saw backlash not once but twice, for serving barbecue ribs, collard greens, cornbread, yams, and red Kool-Aid at both New York University and Loyola University.
In 2019, a restaurant in the Washington D.C. area found itself at the center of controversy after it offered patrons fried chicken and ‘40s of rosé, while featuring pictures of famous hip-hop artists as chickens holding chicken drumsticks around the location.
Just earlier this month, a Catholic high school in Massachusetts also got in trouble for serving fried chicken to its students for Black History Month, leading to the school’s student vice president asking for a formal apology.
Aramark is far from the only U.S. business to fumble during Black History Month. In fact, just a week into February, 2023 has already been a banner year for botched Black History Month tributes. In Miami, the city’s mayor and police chief unveiled a cop car covered in Black symbolism for the occasion less than a week after the video of Tyre Nichols death became public. In Ohio, a police department featured fake quotes attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King on its patrol cars.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.