Campus awaits food supplier presentations

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Photo by Sam Pianello

Predicting the future can be im­possible on a college campus, and Vassar is no exception to this. Starting this Friday, Sept. 18, and continuing through the following two Fridays, however, three dining companies are seeking to do just that. Their hope is to win over students and the commu­nity with new ideas as to how they can rectify the long-unpopular cam­pus dining system.

Following two years of general dissatisfaction with campus dining, the College will play host to two new food vendors, Sodexo and Bon Ape­tit, as well as Vassar’s current suppli­er, Aramark.

Each vendor will give presen­tations detailing their short-term and long-term goals for the dining program, covering such issues as sustainability, support of local food businesses and ethical purchasing practices. They will each have a day to answer questions and solicit feed­back from students.

Though the precise future of the College’s dining plan remains up in the air, students and administra­tors alike see these presentations as an opportunity to parse out exactly

which vendor could, and should, be feeding students on campus come next fall..

Assistant Dean of the College for Campus Activities Teresa Quinn, has worked with the College’s food suppliers for many years. In her mind, these presentations offer students the chance to help administrators find the best food the College can provide for the commu­nity. She remarked, “We have asked the provid­ers to share why they are interested in a dining campus partnership and working relationship with the college and how they approach the task of creating and sustaining an extraordinary dining experience for a diverse and engaged community.”

Despite the optimism that Quinn expressed for the future of dining, it is no great secret among students that campus dining has grown unpopular in recent years.

Student Co-Chair of the Food Committee Sarah Sandler ’18 [full disclosure: Sandler is a staff reporter for The Miscellany News] de­tailed some of the concerns many of her con­stituents have brought to her. As she recalled in an emailed statement, “The biggest concerns students have that I have heard are nutrition, quality, sustainability, variety and options for various diets.”

Sandler was careful, however, to distinguish the current state of dining with the efforts of the College’s current food vendor, Aramark. “A lot of people just assume that Deece food is low quality, packaged, frozen stuff but being part of Food Committee has shed light on how much effort and thought actually goes into serving good food,” she reflected.

Sandler wasn’t the only student working with dining who has encountered concerns though. Vassar Student Association VP for Stu­dent Life Chris Brown ’16 works closely with students to address concerns about meal plans. He expressed great excitement at the prospect of offering feedback to visiting food vendors and giving students a voice in the search pro­cess, especially in light of the discontent his constituents have sent him.

Reflecting on the issues he recalls being no­tified of, Brown said, “I think some of the issues with dining are: a) unfair prices because a meal swipe costs on average 15 dollars which is ab­surd and b) the quality of food.”

A recurring theme among dining officials’ discussion of the new vendors is the importance of student involvement. Although students will not ultimately make the final decision as to who will get to cook for campus, many stressed how much value the vendors actually put into win­ning over the community.

Quinn spoke of the necessity of student input as the College moves forward in deciding the future of dining services at Vassar. As she ex­plained, “Student voices are absolutely essen­tial in this process. Everyone has to find suste­nance throughout the day, and the majority of students visit ACDC and the Retreat on a daily basis. Therefore, dining is a very important part of the college experience.”

She continued, speaking to the critical im­pact food has on student’s on-campus expe­riences in general. “Students feel better in all aspects of their lives when they are eating well and can make informed and educated decisions about their dining experience with a variety of options and locations,” she said.

But before students can weigh in on their preferences, they have to know what dining op­tions exist. Transparency has not always been a point of strength for Campus Dining but mov­ing forward, the hope is that these presenta­tions will further inform students’ understand­ing of what food possibilities are out there..

As Brown explained, “Unfortunately, a lot of what has been happening with these three vendors has been very internal. At this point, students don’t know a lot about all three of the vendors and I think these meetings are an ex­cellent opportunity to give students the insight that they need as well as to provide student in­put to these vendors.”

Sandler agreed that the hopeful food provid­ers’ best course of action will be to break with what many students see as a consistent lack of dialogue about issues surrounding student dining on campus. “From these presentations, I would like to see just a lot of simple hones­ty,” Sandler wrote. “Attendees won’t learn a lot from vague plans and I hope we see some concrete examples of what these companies are doing at other locations and what they may do the same/differently at Vassar. If they threw in a sample menu or possible additions, that’d be great.”

Looking forward, many confirm that these presentations are laden with expectation. Ul­timately, it isn’t just the vendors who imagine a better future for campus dining. More than anyone else, it is students who know what they want to eat.

“Ideal Vassar dining is different for every­body, but if I can try to sum it up I would say Vassar dining would look like many fresh, healthy options, options for vegans, vegetari­ans, gluten-free etc, as much local produce as possible, variety, more efficient set up (we all know how hectic it is at 6 or 6:30 pm), and con­venience (for spots like the Retreat, Kiosk, and UpC),” Sandler said.

Brown echoed this sentiment. To him, the most important part of the coming search pro­cess is the emphasis on giving students a voice to express their wants and needs for how they eat on campus. After all, it is students who will be eating this food everyday.

“The best outcome would be that there is a lot of student interest,” Brown posited. “I think that the main push for this change came from student voices last year. And previous years… This movement is a product of student voices and I think first off I think what would be a good thing to happen is at these three upcom­ing meetings with vendors there is a lot of stu­dent participation.”

“I think it matters because there is a lot of passion behind it. It is just a matter of taking that passion and putting it into action. And one way of doing that is showing up to these events,” Brown went on to say.

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