Hey, Sodexo! Where’s Our Food?

By the Clark Challah for Hunger Chapter

A vegetarian student went to Clark University’s Dining Hall with friends for dinner one night this semester. Like usual, there were options and specific stations set for them and they felt confident about their array of choices. After going back to their seat, however, they found chicken in their plate despite the dish having been labeled acceptable to their diet. Yet when this student had asked in the past if something was vegetarian, they had been met by push back.

“A lot of the time, I go into the dining hall and don’t eat anything,” said Mia Levine, another vegetarian student.

Almost 40 percent of college students nationwide struggle with food insecurity. Clark University Student Government has refused to release a survey created by one of the Challah For Hunger board members. This survey has already been pre-approved by the Deans and would give actual statistics of food insecurity on our campus.. The pandemic has made resources harder to access, yet our Administration is not taking initiative to try and figure out who needs help and in what ways.

One fast action that we can make as a college community today is to ensure that each student at Clark University has adequate access to the foods they prefer.

On campus, our main provider of food is Sodexo, a company with which Clark University signed a ten year contract with just a few years ago. Students have been protesting Sodexo contracts for years. They feel that they deserve better food options and that food workers also need more fit working conditions – but that’s an op-ed for another time.

Sodexo, and other food provider organizations, make a lot of money by feeding students subpar meals. Food sovereignty and justice, though, dictates that everyone – including students who cannot afford the meal plans offered – has the right to define their own healthy and culturally appropriate foods that are produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods.

For example, Sodexo does not offer Halal (food for Islamic students that is permissible as outlined in the Quran) options. There is a Kosher station that often overlaps with Halal ideals, but when it comes to holidays, that is not always the case. Halal standards are affected by religion and culture. Specifics include that Halal meat must be butchered by a Muslim. Gelatin, emulsifiers, pork, and alcohol are not Halal approved. If Muslim students are not being provided food at certain times of the day during Ramadan, they are simply not going to eat. How is that ok?

However, people do not know much about these distinctions, presumably including Sodexo staff. It is integral that we are informed as a community. We need information and education so that people understand what we are asking for and why. A holistic view will allow everyone’s food preferences to be accounted for, even if it is informal, basic information. Sheets on tables or posted on the walls of the Dining Hall can add a quick yet deeper understanding of the topic and start the transition to finding better options for all students relying on the Sodexo meal plan.

Institutionally, it is true that students do not have a lot of power at Clark. Yet we are the ones not only paying for, but also the ones actually consuming the meals Sodexo provides. That should warrant at least some say. The Dining Committee voices their opinions to food management by representing students pushing for what they want to change. In the past few years, the suggestion board has simply added ice cream and stuffed peppers more often. We are still lacking the systemic change that is necessary for all students to feel included on our campus and in the dining hall itself.

Yes, there is plenty of food on campus. We are privileged to have such a wide variety of food on our campus, but why are we still forgetting and leaving people out? What about a station that has something everyone and anyone can eat? We need to work together to find adequate and acceptable options for all students. Everyone deserves a healthy, fulfilling meal and our dining plans should be cognizant of that.