HUSSAIN: Shut up and eat your food

Vanderbilt students have been causing an uproar about dining hall meals. But amidst a global pandemic, can we really expect better?


Chloe Postlewaite

During non-pandemic times, Commons Dining Hall is where many first-years dine. (Hustler Multimedia/Chloe Postlewaite)

Ali Hussain

When I was admitted into Vanderbilt, I was excited that they boasted a great dining program. I remember looking at pictures of the Munchie Mart on Inside Dores and gawking at how conveniently perfect it was. I was content. I was happy. 

But, coming here, dining really wasn’t what I expected. There wasn’t a bustling hall full of students eating while cramming for their next exam, and there weren’t even enough options that everyone would have been satisfied with. Years of public school lunches, however, prepared me for that dissatisfaction, so when my pasta was a little wet or my waffles a little soggy, I didn’t throw a hissy fit like some students did. 

And that’s the problem. Complaining about dining food after teams of people spend hours upon hours cooking it for us is outright elitist. I mean, we get it. Back at your private school at home you had catered lunches. At the private high school down the street from my public high school, they were eating “Cheese Tortellini with Italian Sausage in a Pink Cream Sauce served with Garlic Knots.” Meanwhile, my public school was serving a “Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Assorted Fruit.” Now that you’re in the real world, let’s figure out how not to publicly shame the dining staff by making an Instagram page recording how bad the food is. That won’t cause real change. It isn’t going to the source and is just complaining about the situation, not looking for alternative opportunities. All it’s going to do is make dining workers who are trying their best feel bad. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that are just plain bad. When you find a maggot in your broccoli or are given raw chicken, I understand your anger. There is clearly a problem with that. However, when we start complaining about how the blackberries are too big or that we got Lucky Charms instead of Fruit Loops, we have gone too far. Let me remind everyone that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Did you expect three Michelin star food while the dining staff has to make sure that getting your food won’t give you COVID-19?

Did you expect the Munchie Mart to magically find that specific brand of cereal when they’re out of stock? Or is it okay for you to have Cocoa Krispies instead of Honey Nut Cheerios? 

Another thing we need to keep in mind is that restaurants make these mistakes just as much as dining does. For some reason, we are holding our dining to a higher standard than we do to restaurants. Think back to the last time you had to send something back because you found a hair in it or it was made with chicken when you asked for it to be vegetarian. Did you yell at the waiter? Did you make fun of the restaurant? Did you ask for the meal to be free because of it? Maybe you did. And maybe you think that’s justified, those are your morals, not mine. But understand that the university’s top priority right now is safety, not whether we have enough boxes of strawberries for every student on campus. 

First-years are paying around $2,686 for our meal plan. This spans 13 weeks, and we get 21 meals per week. Doing some quick math, it comes out to around $9.83 per meal swipe, quite similar to the upperclassmen plans. I understand that we are paying ten bucks for mediocre food, but between the salad bar, the desserts, and the sides we get on top of an entree, the price holds up to pretty well to any restaurant. On top of that, with those ten dollars, dining even accommodates for different dietary restrictions by providing vegetarian, vegan, kosher and halal options.

Next time you’re out spending three times that amount at Nada or The Ainsworth, keep this in mind. When you have to send that burger back because it’s undercooked, but didn’t make a big stink about it, remember you decided to let the world know that your dining chicken tenders were a little pink.