NY Middle School Apologizes for ‘Culturally Insensitive’ Chicken & Waffles Meal

T.Tseng, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

February is the month of love, Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow, and of course, the deluge of Black History Month propaganda. It’s everywhere, from your recommended TV shows and movies to your kid’s classroom.

Growing up, I don’t recall heritage months being prevalent. Honestly, I don’t think the emergence of these months dedicated to the rich cultures that make up our great country is terrible. Ideally, during these months, kids are introduced to the history and culture of said heritage which would naturally include such topics as traditional dress, music, and of course, my favorite… cuisine.

However, suppose it’s Black History Month. In that case, the focus is on how to acknowledge your white privilege and the exhaustive search for benign things to be offended over. You can’t even enjoy chicken and waffles without being called a racist.

An Offensive Dish

I hadn’t had chicken and waffles until a few years ago. It just wasn’t something that sounded appealing to me, and I suppose that’s, in some backward way, a reflection of my toxic whiteness. 

Needless to say, I have had the dish, and it’s alright; it’s not my favorite, but I understand why so many people from all walks of life enjoy the meal. Interestingly, a middle school in New York must apologize due to their cafeteria vendor changing the menu to include chicken and waffles.

Their crime — serving the dish along with a watermelon dessert on February 1st, the first day of Black History Month. 

“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,” said Nyack Middle School principal David Johnson in a statement.

I’m sorry, I need a minute; it’s culturally insensitive to serve kids chicken and waffles with watermelon? I mean… you’ve got protein, a delicious sweet treat, and hydrating fruit. 

Did I miss something? Is it just black people who are allowed to enjoy this tasty meal and fruit?

Mr. Johnson continued, “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.”

Since when is chicken and waffles with watermelon a negative stereotype? Oh, I know, since it’s Black History Month.

 

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You Must Atone!

Falling in line with the February requirement to apologize for things that are ridiculous to apologize for, food provider Aramark put out a statement as well.

“While our menu was not intended as a cultural meal,” they said, “we acknowledge that the timing was inappropriate, and our team should have been more thoughtful in its service.”

Oh, so chicken, waffles, and watermelon are not unique to the black culture? So what is the problem, and what are we apologizing for again?

“This was a mistake and does not represent the values of our company, and we are committed to doing better in the future.”

Values?! It’s chicken, waffles, and watermelon! This isn’t as if the meal was served by cafeteria workers dressed in traditional KKK clothing or with a helping of racial slurs. 

But alas, we wouldn’t be America if we didn’t try to solve a non-problem with nonsense training. So the vendor has agreed to partner with the school district to ensure their employees attend ‘sensitivity training’ to ensure they align with the district’s “vision and commitment to equity-driven work.”

The joint statement on the training said, “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.”

What a world we live in that a sweet and savory poultry dish with a side of fruit could cause so much emotional damage.

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You Will Feel Bad, and You Will Like it

I remember when these heritage months were supposed to celebrate the said culture in focus. A time to learn about the past, embrace the culture, and look optimistically toward the future with pride.

Instead, Black History Month has become a focus on one aspect of history, embracing the culture at your own peril and assuming all actions, present and future, are meant to and will cause damage to the black community. 

“We need to educate the folks who are in those spaces of doing these things on culture competency,” Nyack school district parent and president of Nyack NAACP Nicole Hines explained, “and knowing that adding these items together is going to cause harm for the students in the school and families and community.”

I’m curious what Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would think about the black community feeling ‘harmed’ by chicken and waffles. This is nothing compared to the harm caused by rap and hip-hop songs glorifying gang culture, the dissolution of the two-parent household, and drug dependency.

But sure, let’s focus on fried chicken and watermelon as harmful.

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Pass the Syrup

Was this an honest mistake by the vendor? No, I don’t think so, I think they changed the menu on purpose, or at least someone did, and I think it was meant as a jab at the black culture.

Hard to prove, of course, but this wasn’t the first time Aramark has faced criticism for doing the same thing in the past, so all signs point to this being deliberate. The reaction though from the school district, members of the community, and the vendor themselves was ridiculous.

I have a family member that likes to passive-aggressively push my buttons to get me to react. It has taken years of discipline, but I no longer ‘rise to the occasion,’ so to speak. 

The same should’ve been done here. With all of the actual obstacles and real racism that we have to deal with, focusing on something so trivial as a menu change meant to incite petty reactions is a distraction that the African American community doesn’t need.

It is time for Black History Month to get off its high horse and stop embracing the cathartic need to punish those based purely on the color of their skin and elevate the narrative that the black community will always be hapless victims. There is more to this community than the legacy of slavery and the actual negative stereotypes that run rampant in our country.

Enjoy the damn chicken and waffles and focus on real problems instead of made-up ones.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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