The University is home to nine dining halls, seven residence hall cafés and countless other University-operated eateries. Eating options for students are innumerable, and freshmen are even known to gain the infamous “freshman 15” from the plethora of food available.
But quantity and quality don’t seem to go hand in hand with University Dining. In fact, it’s not even a big stretch to say they’re inversely related.
Last week I bit into one of South Quad dining hall’s breakfast egg-and-cheese croissants and found a whole uncooked egg yolk spilling out of the center onto my plate. Absolutely horrified, I wrote a Facebook status later that day sharing this anecdote. The response was overwhelming.
My uncooked egg sandwich was only one of several atrocities supposedly found in the dining halls. Other students encountered strands of hair in their “fresh” salads or dirty utensils that should’ve been thoroughly washed. Nearly every student I told about my raw egg had an equally — if not more — disgusting experience to relate. On top of that, several students found that their concerns over allergies or dietary restrictions largely fell on deaf ears among the residence hall staff. When I asked them why none of these matters had been pursued, something along the lines of “no one cares” was the general response.
I don’t mean to go all Upton Sinclair on the dining halls. To be fair, the options available are still sufficient for many students. As a vegetarian, I’ve never found it particularly difficult to get a meal in dining rooms, even if my narrow choices have become monotonous over time. Horror stories of unsafe food or utensils are the exceptions, not the norm. There are plenty of dining staff members who are passionate about accommodating for allergies and restrictions, and getting students the best, safest food possible.
So why does there continue to be a gap between what students want and what they actually receive?
Perhaps part of the issue lies within the organizational structure of the dining halls. Sumana Palle, a sophomore and former North Quad Residence Hall dining hall employee, reports having witnessed an obvious lack of sensitivity among staff for students with food allergies. “As soon as someone who was complaining walked away, the supervisor would turn to me and roll his eyes, which was very disheartening,” she told me. Like Palle, many of the employees are students themselves and likely aren’t particularly passionate about improving the dining experience. Those who actually care, such as the managers, tend to be behind the scenes and less frequently directly encounter issues that students face.
Over the past several years, there have been pushes for more healthful and sustainable food options in the dining halls from both students and administrators. While these are important improvements, the primary concern should be making food safer to eat.
Part of the solution, however, lies in our hands, too. Leave it to our generation to Facebook and tweet about dining hall atrocities instead of actually sending in a complaint to someone who might be able to help — I’ve since sent in a formal complaint of my own, though I haven’t heard back yet. The dining halls are always asking for feedback, so if you want to see a difference, fill out a comment form or do it online. If the food or utensils you’re using make you uncomfortable in any way, tell someone who works there instead of just complaining about it on Facebook. Though human nature is such that we often only remember our worst experiences, employees who genuinely care do exist, and it is possible you will encounter someone who wants to hear your complaints and make your dining experience better.
I don’t want to find any more raw eggs, strands of hair or bits of old food in the meals I’m served in the dining halls. But if we don’t start talking about it, who will? It’s time we take dining back into our own hands and start working to improve the food we’re served on campus.
Hema Karunakaram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.