By Cooper-John Trapp, Staff Writer
Sodexo provides food service to USM students across its campuses, offering a range of food options for students with dietary restrictions and allergies. However, several students with dietary restrictions or food allergies report having a difficult time ensuring they get proper nutrition while maintaining their health.
Residential students living on the Gorham campus, except those in the Upperclass dorm, are required to purchase a $2250 meal plan per semester. For $4,500 an academic year, students can choose between several combinations of meal swipes and dining dollars.
Four students interviewed reported that they preferred dining on the Portland campus instead of Brooks Dining Hall on the Gorham campus. They agree that the “food quality is better,” for students with specific dietary needs because the food is a ’la-carte. This makes it easier to ensure that their needs are being met.
Bella Collins, a vegan second-year nursing student, jokes that “contrary to popular belief I do not just eat lettuce.” She says she must search each of the separate food stations to construct a full vegan meal. Additionally, there is a “feeling of being an afterthought in Brooks,” during special food nights that feature items such as surf and turf, hot wings, milk tasting and burgers.
Coral Fuller, a sophomore psychology and art double-major, says she has similar struggles in finding enough vegan options within her meal plan. She notes some bright spots, such as the recently added burrito bowls in Lower Brooks and a vegan Holy Donut offering. Like many students, Fuller says, she “prefers eating at the Woodbury Campus Center because they always serve falafel and burrito bowls.” In Brooks, on the other hand, the food is pre-prepared and she cannot ask the chef to hold certain ingredients.
Chelsea Champagne, Sodexo’s district dietitian based at USM, works with students seeking accommodation with medical or dietary needs. As a registered dietician, Champagne has a medical background and knows how to manage an individual’s condition through their diet. In her role, she works with student’s doctors and “serves as an in-between for students and the dining services.”
Student feedback is critically important to Sodexo, Champagne says. Sodexo solicits feedback a number of ways. Students are encouraged to complete a biannual survey on their experiences that Sodexo uses to make decisions about food options and operations. In Brooks dining hall, students can leave notes on a magnetic bulletin board as well as texting ‘usmfeedback’ to 82257.
However, “If you write suggestions on the notecards it doesn’t seem to change much, no matter how many people write,” says Kathleen Rattazzi, a tourism and hospital major with a food studies minor. Rattazzi lives with a condition called ulcerative colitis. Last year, in order to manage her symptoms, she needed a specific carb and elimination diet. Many meals consisted of boiled chicken, plain rice, broccoli and spinach. She frequented the ‘Simple Servings’ station last year, but often went to the Portland campus for meals because of how meals can be customized. The Myzone refrigerator in Brooks Dining Hall contains gluten-free, peanut and tree nut free options but has slowly decreased what it carries, she adds.
“So many people say ‘I wish we knew what was on the menu,’” Rattazzi says.
Brooks Dining Hall lists its daily menu on the Bite app, which shows each item offered for breakfast, lunch and dinner, listed with icons explaining whether the dish is vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. It also lists any allergens contained in the dish. By selecting certain allergens in the search, students can filter the daily offerings to find what works for them.
Rattazzi believes that a main divide is communication and knowledge. She says that students “feel that their concerns aren’t usually addressed” and often are unaware of the resources at their disposal, such as the Bite app containing each day’s menu offerings.
Champagne notes that avenues of communication, such as the Community Culinary Council meeting held monthly meeting that is open to USM staff and students, are greatly underutilized by students.
Sodexo’s staff is preparing for large-scale renovations to Brooks Dining Hall scheduled for completion before students move in next fall. Rattazzi is hopeful about the expanded range of options and cooking methods the changes promise.
The next Community Culinary Council meeting will take place Thursday, April 11 from 1-2 p.m in the Woodbury Campus Center on the Portland campus. Champagne can be reached at [email protected] and the Bite app is available for free at the App store.