Sorry, nature lovers. You’re kidding yourselves if you think your national park dining experiences are corporation-free.
On Jan. 4, the Yosemite Valley Lodge’s plan to install a Starbucks coffee kiosk in a new food court led to some online backlash, according to the Fresno Bee, in the form of a Change.org petition. Job postings for Yosemite Starbucks Store Managers and other positions on Indeed made people aware of the incoming coffee shop, which led to the petition, and the postings have since been taken down.
The word spread and one writer at Jezebel even posted an impassioned plea to keep Yosemite Starbucks-free.
Nearly 11,000 people have signed the “Stop Starbucks in Yosemite” petition attempting to halt the store’s installation so far.
“Multinational corporations have no place in our National Parks,” reads the petition. “The opening of a Starbucks in Yosemite Valley opens the door to further undue development. The Park will lose its essence, making it hardly distinguishable from a chaotic and bustling commercial city.”
David Freireich, a spokesman for the company installing the Starbucks, Aramark, stressed that the company is just licensing the Starbucks products — it is not an actual Starbucks store. The counter will also only occupy existing space, and no new structures will be built, nor will signage be visible from park grounds.
“We want to make sure the public understands exactly what is being done at Yosemite Valley Lodge,” Freirich said. “The petition is not an accurate representation or reflection of what is being planned.”
Regardless of the extent of the future Starbucks’ prevalence and visibility, here’s what protesters are missing: corporations are already deeply embedded in our national park experiences — they’re just a little harder to spot.
The idea of a national park being, as the petition says, “indistinguishable” from a shopping mall is what’s key here. With names like the “Gold Rush Dining Room,” it’s easy to think that the quaint eateries at national park lodges are different from your everyday food court or dining hall. But those cafes and dining rooms are actually run by corporations that dominate food distribution across the world, too.
The Starbucks in Yosemite will be part of the new Basecamp Eatery, where national parks visitors will be able to grab a coffee or sandwich before heading to half dome, when it opens spring 2018. Yosemite Hospitality will run the food court — but Yosemite Hospitality is actually a corporate subsidiary itself, of the food, facilities, and uniforms giant Aramark.
Aramark is a publicly traded Fortune 200 company that operates in 19 countries and collected $14.6 billion in revenue in 2017. It distributes its food through another ubiquitous food giant, Sysco, and also happens to run food services in national parks across the country including Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Glacier Bay, and more. National park dining and lodging is just one part of Aramark’s food business (let alone its expansive business as a whole). They also provide food for schools, and prisons — where in 2011 they were accused of serving maggots and literal garbage to inmates.
That’s not to say Aramark is evil just because it’s big. They’ve received plenty of accolades for their ethical business practices, complied with Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiatives, and say they are working to make their food as sustainably sourced as possible.
But you can’t object to the presence of Starbucks without being opposed to the national parks hospitality system as a whole. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t question, or protest the current national park food model.
Visiting #Yosemite over the summer I had a conversation with a ranger over the struggle to find balance between rising visitor numbers & maintaining the viability of the park. If there’s one place that shouldn’t be commercialized this is it. And yes, I drink #Starbucks. pic.twitter.com/Pe9JEEqLLY
— Tom Ackerman (@TomAckermanWx) January 9, 2018
But as is, major corporations like Aramark already have more than a foothold in our public and natural spaces. Another corporation called Xanterra runs food services at many of the national parks that Aramark doesn’t, including Mount Rushmore, Crater Lake, Yellowstone, and more. The National Park Foundation also runs a “Corporate Partnerships” program, which collects sponsorships in the hundreds of thousands from companies like Budweiser and Coca-Cola in exchange for sponsored benches, buses, auditoriums, and the like.
Yosemite’s Starbucks is an optically egregious joinder between corporations and national parks. But in fact, it’s just an expansion of the norm — without the front of a hokey name.
And let’s be real: before heading out on a long hike, if you’ve got a choice between a predictable cup of Starbucks, and the caffeine gamble from a pot in a dining hall that’s been sitting on a burner for who-knows-how-long, which are you gonna choose?
Neither Starbucks nor the National Parks Service responded to Mashable’s request for comment before the time of this article’s publication.
UPDATE Jan. 9, 2:30 p.m. ET: Comments from Aramark were added.