Hunger strikes protesting Wendy's snowball across college campuses

by Shireen Korkzan

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After 19 students at the Ohio State University concluded their weeklong fast to protest fast-food chain Wendy’s, students at Big Ten rival University of Michigan joined the cause.

The students broke their fast March 26, when about 500 farmworkers, college students, religious leaders and consumer allies marched three miles in the Parade for Human Rights in Columbus, Ohio, in solidarity with Florida farmworkers. Wendy’s is headquartered in the nearby suburb of Dublin.

University of Michigan students attended the parade, and after, the Ohio State fasters and six Michigan students joined a stage together to launch the next leg of fasting. As the Ohio State students broke theirs with bread, the Michigan students began a 24-hour fast of their own. This “passing of the torch” officially ended the parade, which also marked the end of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ 12-city, two-week Return to Human Rights Tour.

Members of student groups Real Food OSU and Ohio State Student/Farmworker Alliance started fasting March 20 in response to the Ohio State University renewing a lease that allows Wendy’s to operate a restaurant inside the Wexner Medical Center on campus. The students wanted their school to cut ties with Wendy’s unless the fast-food chain joins the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food program, a partnership among farmers, farmworkers and food companies that ensures livable wages and humane conditions for produce pickers. While McDonald's, Taco Bell and other major food retailers are already members of the program, Wendy's has yet to join.

The coalition accuses Wendy’s of maintaining unethical standards because it imports its tomatoes from Mexico, citing Richard Marosi’s four-part series of articles on the slavery conditions Mexican farmworkers face that appeared in The Los Angeles Times in 2014.

Students from other colleges have started to join the effort. Recently, five students at New College of Florida in Sarasota fasted for five days. New College president Don O’Shea participated with his students.

Twelve Vanderbilt University students launched a weeklong fast April 18, which will conclude during a student and community march outside Vanderbilt chancellor Nicholas Zeppos’ office. According to the Vanderbilt Political Review, students have been pressuring Vanderbilt administrators to remove Wendy’s from the school’s Taste of Nashville program, which allows students to purchase food from local restaurants using meal card money.

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