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The Blue & Gray Press | December 11, 2017

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Do Not Dismiss Dining Concerns

By PHIL WHITE

I am writing to raise some concerns with the current dining services program run by Sodexho and to outline the predicament of trying to make a serious effort to make a positive change for the school.
As we are always told, “everyone likes to complain about Seacobeck and the Nest,” and many would dismiss these concerns as mere whining.  I would like to attempt to give an explanation of why I believe that all anyone ever does is “whine.”
The basic issue, as I see it, is that there is nothing else for us as students to do.
There are only a few other reasonable options, all of which I found to be ineffective:  talking to Sodexho managers to try to fix things “through the system,” trying to raise student awareness using such mediums as The Bullet and trying to petition the school administration to get things changed.
At this time, I can honestly write that I have tried and thoroughly exhausted all three of these suggested methods that people typically suggest; none of them were effective.
First, I should give a general outline of what everyone already knows:  the quality of the food served at Seacobeck is sub-par at best and the selection is poor.  Things will occasionally get better and then worse, but better than terrible is not good enough.
Also, the prices at the Eagles Nest are grossly inflated, ranging from 20 percent over-retail-price increases in the bottled juice to 66 percent price hikes for Odwalla bars.
My further claim is that any significantly serious attempts to change things “normally” end up having little to no effect.  It is for this reason that all we have left to do is “complain” and hope that someone with the power to change things will listen.
I worked for at least two months to try to talk to and reason with managers at Sodexho.
They were very polite, very professional and very skillful at promising a lot while doing next to nothing.
The extent of placebo-like commitment to change on the part of Sodexho managers at UMW is vast and there is not room in this letter to give a comprehensive account of it.
However, I feel that it would be appropriate to include an anecdote that illustrates my point:  does anyone else remember “Sunday brunch?”
While I do not still have a copy of the Bullet article in which a manager at Sodexho touted his new plan for Sunday brunch, I seem to recall this manager jubilantly informing a Bullet reporter that from there on out, Sunday brunches would be especially high quality, nutritious and delicious and that the only occasion that Sodexho needed to pull out all the stops to serve the students well was for the day of the week to be Sunday and for the meal to be brunch.
Unfortunately, anyone who believes this who has also attended a weekend brunch recently will be forced to conclude that Sunday has not occurred at Seacobeck in several months.
Sadly, I have been equally frustrated in my attempts to gather support from the students for trying to make a change.
I do not blame any members of the student body for this, as we are all in the same boat; however, it seems virtually impossible to get anything done to raise awareness of the possibility of trying to make a change.
I made a Facebook group and made a few postings on Middlesell to try to get people interested in what was going on. This had some success, but in addition to my limited diplomatic and persuasive skills (I am computer science and mathematics major, not a future lawyer), I found that as popular as Middlesell is, not everyone checks it frequently.
My goal in doing all of this was to get a petition written and signed by students to send to the school’s administration asking for Sodexho to be replaced by a more effective dining services company.
For this reason, I planned to try to get someone from The Bullet to write an unbiased article.  As luck would have it, someone did ask to write an article about the petition. Thinking this would be immensely beneficial, I offered my full cooperation and spent upwards of an hour responding to questions from the would-be author of the article via e-mail.
Unfortunately, that article was never published. After having been assured that it would be published after break, I found that the article was never even submitted and that once again any endeavors to change the status quo came to nothing.
Ultimately, it is not my goal to blame or point the finger at anyone, even Sodexho management; the point is that people who always say that “all anyone does is complain” do not seem to realize that there is little else for us to do.
Sodexho does not listen. Organizing a petition is too time-consuming (believe me, I worked for roughly four months before giving up).
There is no way I know of to help other than what I am doing now. I am asking everyone at this school—students, administrators, other staff members and anyone else who will listen—not to dismiss concerns with the inflated prices, nutritional value and general quality of the food that we are required to pay for when living on campus, especially when they are raised in an honest and mature manner.
Yes, “everyone complains about the food,” but has anyone thought that there might be a good reason?
Perhaps people who don’t have to eat on campus think it’s stupid to complain about something as insignificant as health and nutritional concerns regarding the only food we can buy with our meal plan (and that most of us can afford).
But I can guarantee you, the vast majority of people who don’t think we have a serious problem with our dining services program do not have to eat on campus.