Quality or quantity in on-campus dining

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By: Will Heidenreich, Sports Editor

College food is not known for being of the highest quality. Lousy “dorm food” is a long-running joke, comparable to the “freshman 15” and students carrying bags of laundry home for their parents. Which begs the question: does Illinois Wesleyan’s food play into joke?

Per school requirement, students must live in on-campus housing for a total of six semesters, the only exceptions being students who live within 60 miles of campus, are married, are over the age of 25 or who have extreme medical conditions. Of the 119 surveys completed, 38 (31.9 percent) were completed by seniors. With the exemption of the senior class, the remaining 99 individuals (68 percent) comprising of the freshman through junior classes are required to live on-campus, excluding students fulfilling the exceptions listed above.

Because students must spend three years on-campus, and therefore on a campus meal plan, the majority of Illinois Wesleyan students count on Sodexo to survive. This semester, students expressed their want for better quality food. “Although the food is not bad, sometimes I find it hard to eat here. I feel as if there’s too much fried food and less healthy alternatives,” said junior Nick Whitehead. “More variety would be nice.”

As of 2017, 37 percent of Illinois Wesleyan students participate in an intercollegiate sport. Nutrition, being a major component of optimal athletic performance as well as making up for lost calories to maintain weight, plays a large role in the life of these individuals. “Overall, I feel as if Sodexo meets my nutritional needs as a student athlete, but I wish they would incorporate healthier variety,” sophomore football player Patrick Tata said.
“I don’t think it meets my needs,” freshman golfer Grace Norton said. “There is very little fruit and vegetables, and when they are present they are of poor quality.”

Sodexo received an “F” rating from the online organization “Is It Bad for You” that determines the legitimacy and safety of different products in 2017. The website’s evaluation team includes several nutrition experts and doctors. They said possible long-term side effects include obesity, hypertension and heart disease along with the short-term side effect of stomach discomfort. They warned that ingredients to be aware of include fat, high sodium and unknown processing chemicals with unknown side effects. They suggested that a healthier alternative to Sodexo food is a healthy, homemade lunch.

In addition to the nutritional needs of student athletes, there are dietary restrictions attributed to religion, personal choice and allergies. Although only 21 percent of the 119 students who completed the survey indicated they had dietary restrictions, the large majority expressed their disapproval for on-campus food.

Survey responses included “There are some options like the salad and sandwich lines but these can get old very quickly. More variety in the vegetarian options at the passport line would be nice,” “would enjoy more Kosher options,” “being gluten free, I am disappointed with the options offered to us by campus dining,” and “I can’t have too much dairy, and everything has an inordinate amount of cheese.”

“Generally, I’ve been satisfied with the food at saga, but Dugout has limited options which makes it hard,” freshman and vegetarian Kate Hoffacker said. “I wish they had more options.”Some vegetarians and vegans expressed distaste. “The vegan options are subpar at best,” sophomore and vegan Sydney Rowley said. “The options are so limited at saga sometimes. The vegan/vegetarian line typically carries little to no vegan food, so I have to resort to the salad line. I am not a fan of limp lettuce. It is very difficult to get healthy, vegan and tasty options from this school.”

“I stopped being a vegetarian after two years of eating Sodexo food,” senior Adriana Erickson said. “You can only eat so many bean-only burrito bowls and rice-and-tofu dishes before you get bored. I started eating just cereal for every meal, and that’s just not healthy.”

Sodexo refused to comment on this information.
This lack of accommodation is not necessarily corporate Sodexo. Other colleges with Sodexo, like Liberty University have a Gluten Intolerance Options Program and guarantee that their vegan options don’t contain any animal products, like butter or honey.

That being said, Illinois Wesleyan and the students do have some kind of a say in what happens with the food. “It’s a partnership. For example, this past fall, Sodexo corporate had this idea that the menu would stay the same for the week. And the outrage from students was evident,” said Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall. “We got a lot of response to that, understandably. I don’t eat the same thing at my home every day. And that approach was not ever discussed with the university. So when we heard that that was the plan for the year, we were able to intervene and suggest that that was not gonna fly and we needed to make a change. And that was changed within a day.”

Students can make a difference in this regard, and one student-athlete is already working on it. “Now, we know that students have ongoing concerns about food service and so one of the things we’ve been working with food service on is a food service committee. It’s a partnership between student senate. We had a student athlete that was really interested in addressing the frustrations athletes have with food service, so we have been meeting regularly, particularly this spring,” Carney-Hall said.

These meetings are held at 4:45 p.m. before every time Student Senate meets, and all students are welcome.
“Sodexo has made a lot of improvements related to student feedback in those meetings,” Carney-Hall said.
With 61.3 percent (71) of the 119 individuals who completed the survey indicating they have felt sick from on-campus food, they show that disapproval of on-campus dining options is a concerning issue.
“The food on campus upsets my stomach so I find myself spending money on alternative options, and I’d rather not,” said junior Sebastian Jennison.

Worse than an upset stomach, students have recently reported getting sick from eating on-campus. “I had the gyros at saga with fries last week, and I finished the meal with a banana,” freshman Joe Pressemer said. “I got sick several times Saturday to Sunday, and in the end I lost seven pounds.”

Pressemer also said that several of his teammates on the baseball team who ate that meal with him reported similar symptoms. This disapproval and illness raises concerns about whether this problem of quality will be addressed or left unattended, potentially creating much larger consequences down the road.