Campus Dining Has Seen Mixed Reviews, So Far

by, Pete Janny & Jocelyn Visnov, Sports Editor & Staff Writer

The fall 2020 semester has featured changes to the two on-campus dining areas located at Locke’s Lofte and the first floor of Kelly Commons. Students who utilize these spaces for meals have had to adjust to the services of Aramark, while others have been forced to accept the reality of not having a nutritionist around to help them.

The school’s partnership with Aramark was initiated before the start of the semester and was originally met with significant pushback from students. The college community became concerned with the company’s alleged history of racist behavior, and thought the transition couldn’t come at a worse time given the eruption of Black Lives Matter activism over the summer. However, students have had no choice but to come to terms with the new provider, and the focus has now seemed to shift to the quality of the food.

“I would rather buy groceries and make myself stuff than have to worry about if Locke’s is going to make something that I want to eat,” Madeline Byrne, a sophomore at the college, said. “Because that’s another thing you don’t get a lot of options.”

The menu at Locke’s has frequently sparked concerns among students over the years, but the lack of a nutritionist this semester has amplified those concerns. As a result, students who tend to rely on advice from an on-campus nutritionist are no longer receiving the professional support they desire. 

Shawn Lawda, a professor of kinesiology at the college, noted the educational and overall health-related benefits to having a nutritionist on a college campus. 

“Having professionals that specialize in nutrition is a benefit, so students have another resource to be educated and make better choices,” Ladda said.

The need for a campus nutritionist is especially important for individuals with food allergies and specific dietary restrictions. Being allergic to substances like gluten or dairy or having any number of dietary restrictions can make it hard to navigate the challenges of finding food in a dining hall, thus giving rise to the need for a nutritionist. 

“I don’t know if that means a dietitian needs to be found and hired and step up and be like, we need to get these kids more things to eat,” Byrne said.

The effects poor nutrition has on one’s day-to-day functioning have been closely studied. According to WebMD, the consequences of poor nutrition can manifest in mental health issues, dental problems, and a constant feeling of tiredness, among other things.

“The impact is overall poor health, less energy, lack of focus, and more likely to get sick because of a compromised immune system,” Ladda said. “Having healthier eating habits can make a big difference — and regular exercise.” 

Aramark asserts they are doing what they can to be versatile in the meal options they provide. They have organized their operations around several different stations which are supposed to help students navigate the meal plan. The current setup is tailored to protect against common food allergens, including milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, soy, wheat, and shellfish, as well as a gluten-free station. 

“From a culinary standpoint we have introduced eight different brand concepts, including True Balance, a stand-alone station that offers innovative meals without seven of the eight most common food allergens,” Sean Ames, the on-site General Manager for Aramark, said. “We also solve for gluten by eliminating wheat, barley and rye ingredients for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.”

Then there are the standard processed foods, like fried chicken sandwiches and burgers, which are offered at virtually all times of the day. Many students end up taking these foods if they don’t want anything from the speciality menu, or from other spots like Tex Mex and the carving station. However, the addition of a nutritionist, Byrne says, may be the first step in the right direction toward improving this situation. Still, the school would ultimately have to make the call on hiring a nutritionist; not Aramark. 

The dining service still consists of many of the same staff members from previous years, and up to this point Ames is happy with how things have gone despite the rocky reception the company received after the school announced the new partnership over the summer. 

“In the interim, I can you tell that in the 4 months of being on campus, Aramark has worked hard to cultivate an enriching relationship with the entire Manhattan College community,” Ames said.

Whether the food is enriching enough is debatable, but without an on-campus nutritionist some students don’t know where to begin when trying to establish a well-rounded diet on campus. Byrne encourages students not to remain complacent if they’re unsatisfied with the dining experience on campus. 

“If you don’t like something, then change it.” Byrne said. “You have the power to change it.”