Castleton University’s dining facilities are facing major backlash from students for what they claim are minimal nutritional options and decreasing food quality.
The Student Government Association Food Committee had a meeting on Monday open to all students and faculty to discuss ways in which Huden and other dining facilities can be improved.
James Wolfe, vice president of Campus Activities, said the food committee was formed last year, but made little to no progress and was quickly disbanded.
He said this year the committee is looking for more input from students and faculty with examples and explanation of what needs to be changed and why.
“If you go and complain about something, you’ve gotta have proof. I want people to document what’s happening when, what meal is it, and figure out a way we can improve what we have,” Wolfe said.
He said Sodexo is easy to work with and the goal is to get more student input to improve what we already have.
The Monday meeting heard discussion about how to improve food quality and the way food is delivered and presented to students.
From there, Wolfe said the plan is to take everyone’s input and form a list of exactly what people want in their dining halls and bring them to Sodexo to implement changes.
He said even if the food was top quality, there would still be a need for a food committee for students to be a part of in order to keep it up to par or make changes as needed.
“Food is a requirement for living, so making that food edible and quality is really what I’m going for. I’m not saying it’s not already, but how can it be better?” Wolfe said.
Izzy Gogarty, president of SGA, listed some of the main concerns that students have frequently brought up to her.
She said she hears a lot of complaints about Huden serving chicken and pasta nearly every night. Not only that, but tacos seem to be common for lunch, sometimes being served twice a week.
“I couldn’t say exactly what food we’ll see, but definitely more of a variety of food. Including more protein; steak, beef, fish,” Gogarty said.
She mentioned that last year Huden had two panini presses, this year they have none and students are still paying the same amount in their meal plans.
Gogarty said students want to see more gluten free, lactose intolerant and vegan/vegetarian options, instead of a daily serving of different variations of quinoa.
She said personally, she eats a salad almost everyday. What she feels should be available for students is grilled chicken and bacon bits to add that healthy protein, instead of processed deli meats or a boiled egg.
Besides discussion of how the food and service can be improved, there was also discussion about changing the hours of Huden, Coffee Cottage, and the possibility of meal exchanges at Coffee Cottage.
“We can be talking about early birds, or athletes who have practice late at night who just need a little snack after 9:30 p.m. and you even have like 7:30 p.m. close on the weekends. It’s the weekend, people are up late,” she said.
Gogarty said the rumors about changing food services are not true, as Castleton has just signed another four year contract with Sodexo.
She said although they signed on for four more years doesn’t mean they can’t make changes from within.
Another concern brought up to Gogarty by students is the fact that if you live on campus, you must have some sort of meal plan.
She said other schools in the VSC don’t require students who live on campus to have a meal plan, so it’s definitely possible to implement those changes here on campus.
“Students at other schools like Johnson and Lyndon, the freshmen are only required to have a meal plan,” Gogarty said.
She feels if students don’t want to eat at Huden, they shouldn’t be forced to pay for food they’re not going to eat. Gogarty added every residence hall has a kitchen, so there should be no reason students should be forced to pay for a meal plan they don’t need or want.
“For students, I want to hear what you really want, not ‘I hate the food, fix it.’ Like if you really are annoyed with a certain food, let me know. If you really want a certain food, let me know,” she said.
Community Advisor Rebekah Young is especially fed-up with the food services on campus.
When Young came to Castleton, she was gluten free. Due to the lack of variety and protein in the main dishes, she had to switch her diet entirely.
“I think that they don’t supply a well balanced meal for lunch, like the other day we had corn dogs, mashed potatoes and corn for the main meal,” Young said.
She said that Huden advertises well balanced meals with food from all of the major food groups, yet the everyday options available tell a much different story.
Young is also a vegetarian, but due to the lack of vegetarian/vegan proteins available, she sometimes has to eat meat for obvious health reasons.
“Quinoa is not a sufficient source of protein. Beans are fine, but beans everyday of the week? No. Healthwise, that’s not good for your system,” she said. “Tofu is an okay supplement, but when it’s deep fried there’s no nutritional value there.”
Young goes to church every Sunday and usually finds herself buying breakfast because Huden isn’t open until 10 a.m. on the weekends. She thinks the hours of operation can be improved and should operate as advertised.
“I went into dinner the other night at 6:30 p.m. They had nothing at the grill, nothing at the pizza station, the vegetarian section was gone, they had the main course open and only half of the salad bar, and they’re open until 9 p.m,” Young said. “I think it’s gone too far, they’ve gotten away with too much.”
She has high hopes that the committee and Sodexo can work together to make the necessary changes needed to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs, and also provide more of a variety for people who are tired of the same thing being served.
Rob MacFarlane, general manager of Huden, said a committee like this is exactly what is needed to keep students happy with the food services.
He said having a committee that meets on a daily basis is more effective than online surveys or comment cards.
He thinks if students are talking to other students, the feedback will be more organic, but if they’re talking to him, they might not be fully honest about how they feel.
“It’s not my dining program, it’s the students dining program … if that’s what the student body wants, then we got to figure out a way to do it. The only way we can do that is be with the students and be a part of those conversations when they’re having them,” MacFarlane said.