A vendor that supplies meals to schools apologized for an “accidental insensitivity” Black History Month menu, echoing similar apologies it has made for more than a decade amid backlash for racially insensitive menus.
Students at Nyack Middle School in New York were served chicken and waffles with an option of watermelon for dessert on the first day of Black History Month last week, according to television station WABC. Both the school’s administration and the food vendor, Aramark, have apologized after students and parents pointed out the racial stereotypes the menu reinforces.
Aramark, the seller, said in a statement to NBC News on Sunday that the situation “should never have happened” and apologized for what it called an “unforgivable mistake.”
“We have apologized for our mistake, are working to establish how it happened and make sure it never happens again,” the statement said. “Our team at that school should have been more thoughtful in their service.”
Nyack Middle School Principal David Johnson did not immediately return a request for comment to NBC News on Sunday. He stated in a letter to parents that the school was unaware of the menu, WABC reported.
“The supplier has agreed to plan future menu offerings that align with our values and our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion,” the letter said. “We are extremely disappointed by this regrettable situation and apologize to the entire Nyack community for the cultural insensitivity of our food service provider.”
Aramark was behind similar holiday menus commemorating black people that have sparked controversy at two other universities in recent years. In 2011, Aramark served chicken and waffles on Martin Luther King Day at the University of California, Irvine.
It said at the time according to the Los Angeles Timesthat the company would provide cultural sensitivity training for all managers and chefs.
New York University students demanded that the school cut ties with Aramark after it served an insensitive menu for Black History Month in 2018 that included cornbread, kale, Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water. according to the New York Times.
Aramark said in that case that two employees independently planned the menu and were fired.
An editorial published in the school newspaper, Washington Square Newscalled the “racial stereotyping” by Aramark on college campuses “unacceptable”.
“While Aramark has made wide public apologies, it must be judged by its actions,” the editorial said. “Serving racially stereotyped food during Black History Month is another clear indication that Aramark’s values as a company are misaligned.”
NYU is trying to cut ties with Aramark in 2019 and has been looking for several suppliers, according to the Washington Square Newsafter students protested the practices and quality of the company to the administration. The university’s dining services now partner with Chartwells, her website state.
Associating certain foods with black culture historically derives from how they were once used in popular media to portray black people in America as poor and uneducated after the abolition of slavery.
In the 1915 silent film “The Birth of a Nation,” fried chicken was used as part of derogatory portrayals of black people. Black-faced white actors were seen eating fried chicken and throwing bones around Congress buildings.
For example, watermelon has been associated with poverty for centuries. The Atlantic reported in 2014 that as early as 1801 a British officer stationed in Egypt called it a “poor Arabian feast.”
But the stereotype became more widespread in the U.S. after emancipation, when caricatures of freed slaves attempted to portray black people as ignorant and mindless, according to the Jim Crow Museum at Michigan’s Ferris State University.