By Evie Giffin
More than 100 students attended a town hall Wednesday in WPAC Auditorium to discuss problems with the food service on campus, particularly in Johnson Hall.
That came on the heels of a petition sent out by Student Senate in early April seeking 1,000 signatures that demanded “a variety of changes deemed necessary by the student population” and requested a town hall “to make sure each concern will be directly heard, recorded, and ensure that progress and necessary changes are made.”
This meeting was met with anticipation as there has been an increase in student concerns surrounding the quality and safety of the food being served. The lines behind the microphones waiting to speak were consistently at least four people deep.
The meeting was held with three Student Senate representatives including Charlie Green, the president of the student organization, and four Chartwells executives including Corey Wagner, director of dining services. The other executives were Marketing Manager Abby Roche, Executive Chef Justin Work, and Dining Hall Manager Amaris Sotomayor.
The guidelines were outlined as the students could only speak in regards to the food and nothing else. As such, the Senate had the ability to shut off the microphones. There were two cases where this happened. One was a student who works in the Spartan cafe and had concerns over lack of training and high turnover rate as well as a lack of proper payment. The other had been a young man who remarked based on what the executives said that maybe the problem of quality was connected with the low employee retention rate. The only response that they received was to talk to them after the meeting and that they were breaking the guidelines.
The executive chef addressed a majority of the concerns that were presented. These concerns that were brought up can be summarized into the following categories:
Per the conversation during the town hall, the food quality was said to be inconsistent to the point of being inedible at times as well as the food for Accepted Student Day being of a much higher quality. This topic was mentioned multiple times throughout the meeting. Sometimes the food was fine but didn’t taste the same as when they had it on a different day. In response to these concerns, the dining staff mostly answered that if the students found a problem, it should be discussed with them. It was also noted that there are three new people being trained at different levels on the pizza station to replace the man who usually held that position and that they are trying various sauce recipes at the pasta station, which could account for the difference in quality.
There were multiple issues surrounding safety in regards to the food. Someone said they found foreign objects such as hair and metal in their food. In response, Wagner responded that they did get her complaints that she had sent through the online form and had addressed in person. They said that they had replaced a bad can opener, which was supposedly the cause of the issue. Some people said that they themselves as well as their friends have gotten food poisoning multiple times from the food in Chartwells, and others noted that sometimes the food was undercooked. These people all got the similar response of, “If you see something like that, you should let us know,” which seemed to fuel the anger present in the room as it made more people stand up. There were also concerns about how the menu doesn’t align with the food actually being served. They were told to let them know it was different.
According to the dining staff, the fruits and vegetables are ordered five days a week and delivered six days so any expired food should be brought to the attention of the employees who work there. Also, the head chef had said that the red and pink found in the chicken is “hemoglobin from oxidization when it is being cooked.” They also said that they don’t water down food but follow corporate recipes and guidelines so that the food is the same every time.
The issues of variety include religious diets and specialty diets such as being vegan, keeping kosher, and having gluten or dairy sensitivities. Some of these issues include an excess of pork options, a lack of alternative milk, and mainly having mainly gluten-based options. One of the multiple people who brought up the lack of milk options mentioned that she did try to tell the staff that the Silk (dairy-substitute products) was empty but they either ignored her or just told her no without even looking.
The issues of allergies and sensitivities were brought up as there are mainly bread-based options and a lack of an itemized ingredients list. One of the people who spoke on the issue of allergies noted that when they tried to see the ingredients in the waffles at breakfast, the only thing that showed up was “waffles.” The executives responded to this person as well as the others who had this type of complaint that they should make a meeting with them, even if they had already had a meeting with them and nothing had changed. They said that if the students wanted alternative foods and recipes then they should set up a meeting and perhaps they would make an event. This was in response to an exchange student who felt that her transition here was harder because there weren’t international food items offered more often than not.
The students were at some points during the town hall not answered and given the same answers to a majority of the questions. This made some students bring up how they don’t feel that they are being heard and that there will continue to be issues. The board didn’t respond. They also said that bringing your own food containers isn’t OK due to sanitary reasons but avoided answering when the student pointed out that the serving utensils are also touched by people and you don’t know where they’ve been (the answer that was offered to prevent personal containers). The dining staff did say that they would be attempting to implement plastic containers that are reusable and that they can wash for the students.
One of the guidelines for the town hall was that only one question was allowed per student. One person waited until the very end to voice her second concern and was met with similar answers to her previous questions and brushed off, which is how a lot of the students felt when they left that meeting.
This also meant that a lot of groups of friends would have to ask their friends to go up and voice a concern that they had for the group. The enforcement of the guidelines was interesting as it was supposed to only be issues that pertained to the entire student body but a couple of people broke the guidelines and spoke about their individual concerns (being a picky eater and loving breakfast) and they faced no consequences.
Evie Giffin is a senior majoring in Professional Writing and Literary and Textual Studies.
Editor’s note: Student Senate sent out a report on the town hall on April 26. It reads as follows:
Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Attached are the minutes of the Dining Services Town Hall from last Wednesday, April 19th. A follow up meeting occurred on Tuesday, April 25th, where we discussed common issues stated in the town hall, and what concerns need to be addressed immediately. Those plans include adding more vegan options and vegan specific protein, training workers to update the menu system, and updating fruit options as it gets warmer. Both Dining Services and Student Senate will continue to address all issues/suggestions brought up at the town hall. The details have been passed on to the new Student Senate Executive Board, Dr. G.S., and the new YCP president, Dr. Burns. Changes over the summer will be posted on “You Spoke We Listened,” and through emails. As stated during the town hall, if there are any issues with the food, please tell a member of the dining staff immediately so that they may address it right away.
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