By GINNY BIXBY
After a long day of classes many students look forward to winding down and having a relaxing meal at the dining hall. However, for students with allergies and other dietary restrictions, they often find themselves asking what can they eat? Although management claims the University Center offers meals suitable for all, UMW students are taking issue with the dining hall menu, finding that it lacks adequate options for students who have various dietary restrictions.
Marketing Manager Rose Benedict said, “There is a vegetarian or vegan entrée at every lunch and dinner,” said UMW dining marketing manager Rose Benedict. “We always have chicken available upon request for students who cannot eat pork, and students can take anything from the salad bar and have it cooked.”
The next issue for college students is time, which many student do not have a lot of.
“It may take some extra time to get it cooked for them when it is not part of the regular menu, and that can be hard when students don’t have much time to eat between classes,” Benedict said. “We try to advertise things like that, but we find that people don’t read fliers so we stopped putting them up.”
Some students, such as freshman Emma Yerly, find the lack of options frustrating.
“There’s nothing for vegetarians to eat but the salad bar,” said Yerly, who is a vegetarian. “I want more hot food options for vegetarians, vegans and anybody else with dietary restrictions.”
Executive chef Andreas Ortner said that it is difficult to deviate from the items offered because the facility follows a basic national menu through Sodexo, Incorporated. “Sodexo has sets of recipes that we must follow,” Ortner said. “If you get a specific item here, it should be the same anywhere else you go that has Sodexo facilities.”
Additionally, the management and staff of the dining facility are employed by Sodexo rather than by the university. Sodexo bills itself as a “Quality of Life Services” company and specializes in food services and facility management. It is based out of France but has a United States branch, and works with colleges and universities, elementary through high schools, hospitals and prisons, among other sectors.
“I’m a Muslim student and there [have been] many times where the UC has pork in all three main stations… It really minimizes the amount of food that Muslims can eat,” said freshman Savara Gunn. “I also have a lot of food allergies so even if just two stations have pork, there are a lot of other things I can’t eat like shellfish.”
Sodexo has been no stranger to controversy in recent years. In 2015, Loyola Marymount students found issue with Sodexo, this time petitioning the university to end its contract with the corporation following reports of food poisoning and mistreatment of workers as well as complaints from students that the food was unhealthy and not suitable for students with dietary restrictions. Over 600 people signed the petition. Similar protests and petitions have been prevalent in multiple universities across the country.
In 2009, 1,500 students from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles boycotted the school’s Sodexo facilities, requesting that the facility either reduce prices or pay employees the Los Angeles living wage of $11.25 an hour.
While a spokesperson for Sodexo said that the employees at Loyola Marymount were paid the living wage, an investigation by “The Los Angeles Loyolan” found that in actuality, some employees were paid as little as $8.50 an hour.
“It’s hard to work within the constraints of Simple Servings because there aren’t many options out there that don’t contain the major allergens,” said Dining Services general manager Roy Platt. “Our employees follow recipes very closely to avoid cross-contamination.”
But some students said they want to eat items that are not just Simple Servings. “It would just be nice if the UC made sure to have a balance of different main courses because there have been a lot of times where cereal becomes my meal,” Gunn said.
In 2010, the corporation paid $20 million in a settlement following claims that it overcharged 21 New York school districts and the State University of New York. In 2007, Sodexo recalled 3,000 lbs. of listeria-contaminated chicken that it had distributed, and in 2013, scandal erupted in the United Kingdom when samples of Sodexo beef distributed around Britain and Ireland were found to contain horsemeat.
The corporation’s past involvement in the private prison industry has also been widely criticized and has spurred student boycotts at many universities, imparting the schools to stop doing business with Sodexo.
Some students said they have complained and requested changes but nothing has come of it.
“It’s annoying how no matter how much we complain the school doesn’t listen,” Yerly said. “My friends and I have used the texting comment system that the UC has to explain our frustrations, but often we are told that our requests can’t be honored or they never follow through on their promises to do what we requested.”
Yerly said that she would support a boycott at UMW.
“Sodexo’s past is disgusting and I think the school should question why it is doing business with the company, especially when it’s so difficult for students with dietary restrictions to eat Sodexo food anyway.”
Freshmen specifically have been frustrated with being forced into eating the Sodexo food, as UMW requires all freshmen students that live on campus to purchase the Eagle Plan, which costs $2,495 a semester and primarily pays for unlimited access to the UC dining hall, along with 30 retail meal swipes and $200 flex dollars.
“I am gluten sensitive and mildly allergic to eggs and I also don’t eat a lot of meat,” said freshman Leah LeBlanc. “I find that there are [few] options for me in the UC, and this is frustrating especially since freshman are required to pay for a very expensive unlimited meal plan.”
According to Benedict, resources are available for students who do not feel like they have the necessary options.
“Students with dietary restrictions are welcome to come to us and organize a time to tour and see the options. If students have an issue they should come talk to us about making changes,” Benedict said.
While the opportunity for change is there, some students are still not aware of what they can do to change their options.
“Unfortunately, because of the lack of protein in my diet I find myself hungry all the time. Because of this I often buy snacks or go to Qdoba,” LeBlanc said. “Now I’m almost out of my Flex dollars and meals but sometimes I had no other choice.”
According to Platt, the requirement of the Eagle Plan was spurred by parents.
“Parents were calling us saying that their students were out of meals,” Platt said. “So, with this meal plan, food is one less thing they have to worry about. Parents don’t have to worry about their kids getting enough food.”
“I think that it should be an option for those who are concerned about running out of meal swipes, but for students who know what they’re doing and are responsible, it should be an option to choose a more limited meal plan,” Yerly said. “We shouldn’t be forced to eat food that we are uncomfortable eating.”