Breaking the Illusion

Brendan Birth ‘16, Columnist

Students love to complain about college food. Yet for all the groaning, Dickinson’s food is better than we usually acknowledge. Most agree that the food is top-notch for holiday dinners. Yet right now the future of the caf as we know it is uncertain. As The Dickinsonian reported a couple of weeks ago, the college is considering outsourcing of the cafeteria. While such a plan may save money and create the illusion of bringing in better food in the short-term, it has the potential to cause much bigger problems down the road.
Speaking as someone who does work-study in the cafeteria, I am given decent treatment as a worker. That decency could be sacrificed if the college outsources its cafeteria to companies like Chartwells and Sodexo. Such companies have been notorious for poor treatment of its workers. Protests over the treatment of dining services employees have taken place at schools like the University of Miami, Northeastern University, and Ohio State University. The United Students Against Sweatshops have consistently been protesting the practices of companies like Chartwells and Sodexo. Because of this sharp contrast between Dickinson Dining Services and outsourced cafeterias, status quo is the best option.

In addition, part of what makes this cafeteria so unique is that it is a frontrunner in sustainability. The food thrown away contributes to growth of other plants at the College Farm. Right now, the college has control to do this with its food. Will the college be able to send food waste to the farm if a new company comes in? This is where we should get concerned. What if the college’s current sustainability measures for the cafeteria are not profitable or preferable for the new company? These are legitimate concerns because any private company coming in is more interested in making money than in Dickinson’s sustainability. If the college suddenly had no control over what food went to the College Farm, the cafeteria’s sustainability could take a hit.

Finally, food quality is a sticking point with many students. Part of a decent living environment is having edible food. I shouldn’t have to worry about my crab allergy kicking in when the cafeteria is serving crab. Vegans should be able to get vegan options. For example, my dad works at Queens College, which outsources to Chartwells. There, the company created the illusion that it offered more choices and better quality when it first came in, but it became so bad that my father often got ill after eating there. Now he would rather eat cold sandwiches from home. I’ve heard tales of outsourced cafeterias taking away their vegan options and not labeling which food has nuts. Furthermore, the 2012 Princeton Review list of the worst campus cafeterias in the country is dominated by colleges that outsource for their food. If the college outsources for its food, Dickinson would be following in the footsteps of the colleges on this list.

Dickinson is currently at a crossroads with the food it offers. The status quo, while not perfect, offers an excellent relationship with the college farm, decent treatment to its workers, food that is always edible, and sensitivity to other dietary needs. An incoming company may trick us into thinking that it cares about these issues, but administrators, students, faculty, and staff must beware of this illusion.