WHITE: Vanderbilt Campus Dining made me cry

We are required to have a meal plan, Vanderbilt should be required to let us have a say.

moldy+oranges

Elena Solopova

Moldy oranges in Kissam Kitchen, as photographed on Aug. 28, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Elena Solopova)

Alexa White, Opinion Copy Editor

I cried in Rand the other day.

Don’t get me wrong: I am an emotional person. Crying isn’t out of the ordinary for me. It is how I process things. But, if you asked me in 2019 why I was crying over Campus Dining I would have guessed that a Rand cookie made me cry tears of joy, not whatever this is. 

You know the feeling when a bunch of seemingly little things have been going wrong throughout your day and then the tiniest inconvenience pushes you over the edge and you finally break down? That’s exactly the build-up that I experienced with Campus Dining these past few days. I waited in line forever, they ran out of what I wanted, I had already skipped breakfast due to long lines and it was my last straw. 

I cried in Rand. Thus, the ten sins of campus dining were realized as the tears fell.

Sin 1: Lines

Ever had only a few minutes to grab a quick bite before another stop on your daily schedule? Good luck. Depending on when you come, you may have to skip meals between classes because you don’t have enough time to find a dining hall that has lines under 20 minutes. This wait is made more difficult for students who need dietary accommodations and have to eat at specific dining halls, like allergen-free dining hall 2301. 

Sin 2: Vegan vs. Vegetarian

Are you a vegetarian? Have fun eating vegan, too, because a lot of the dishes that are prepared for vegans are the vegetarian option too. That means that the cheese quesadilla you get as a vegetarian is also made with, unfortunately for our dairy-loving vegetarians, vegan cheese

When lines are long and workers are trying to serve as many students as possible, there is little time to discuss ingredients or check whether a meal meets dietary restrictions. Even when vegetarian options are available, the dining halls are often out of meatless substitutes. Sometimes, there is confusion about whether the entree has meat at all, which ends in waste and a hungry student.

Sin 3: Containers

Remember in 2019 when Vandy committed to zero plastic? We now go through a ridiculous amount of waste each day because we returned to using to-go containers instead of reusable dishes. Most dining halls have a mix of compostable containers and plastic, but student confusion over what is recyclable and where to throw out trash leaves most recycling bins filled with food waste. Just looking at the overflowing trash cans after a meal period, you can see the sheer amount of waste that is created by Campus Dining. 

Sin 4: Drinks

Since the switch from Coke to Pepsi products, we have seen an extreme decline in the variety of options for drinks in dining halls. Right now, you can get juices, SoBe water, water, lemonade and Gatorade. You can’t even argue that these options are healthier because juice and Gatorade have massive amounts of added sugar. We are missing the drinks we love: Sprite, Coke and blue Powerade. Especially missed are options that are calorie-free and with no added sweeteners. Furthermore, sparkling water was a student favorite in years past, but students can only purchase Bubly using Meal Money. In the past, sparkling water was offered in the dining halls as well.

Sin 5: Variety

Where’s the variety? If you’ve ever checked NetNutrition to see if another dining hall offers a reprieve from Rand’s long lines, you’ve likely been disappointed. Every day at Zeppos, lunch is burgers! I can’t eat burgers every day! A lot of the favorites we had in 2019 have never been brought back, and this has been blamed on staffing shortages as a result of COVID-19. The Pub, a student favorite, has never been reopened, the Rand Bowls station has only opened a few times last year and Pho isn’t an everyday thing at E. Bronson Ingram Dining Hall anymore.

“[I miss] waffle and omelet stations, wings at The Pub, quesadillas at fresh Mex, French vanilla lattes at Munchies in the morning,” junior Serena Musungu said. “When I talk to freshmen [about these things], they think I’m lying.”

Sin 6: No snacks

I’ll be short with this one because it is simple: there are no snacks available with a meal swipe. You used to be able to get a few snacks to eat between classes or on weekends with a Munchie swipe, but now you have to use your very limited meal money for such a purchase. There is no “COVID-19 excuse” for this. Vanderbilt has insanely marked up the prices on these snacks (think late-night airport convenience store prices) just to scam money out of students looking for convenience. There’s no nice way to put it, we are a captive audience and they used that to profit off of us. 

Can you tell I am frustrated?

Sin 7: Running out of food

Ever waited in line for 20 minutes just to find out they are out of the main dish? Ever had to go through the line again just to get a little more food? Apparently, there is a limit in “all you care to eat” dining halls regarding how much meat you are allowed to “care to eat” per trip through the line. I had that experience the other day in Zeppos. I waited so long after a full day of classes and work just to get to the front and find out that there was no pasta as was listed on the menu, only steak and chicken. Very frustrating. 

Sin 8: Nothing is open!

A lot of students at Vanderbilt like to keep busy. This means that people are up early and up late. We have work, class, labs and extracurriculars at all hours of the day and we need access to meals that take that into consideration. In the past, Campus Dining could accommodate its students’ schedules. In fact, in 2019, EBI and Commons Dining Hall served food from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so students who were out late could still ensure they were eating dinner.

Now, there are way fewer options. Most dining halls, which used to be open all day, are now only open for a few hours around traditional meal periods and close in between. Commons Munchie Mart, which used to be open 24/7, is now only open after 6 p.m. CDT. It is crazy to look at these differences and not see why students are upset. 

Sin 9: The required meal plan

We literally do not know what to do about this issue; we seem to have no influence over the meal plan we are required to buy. 

“In 12 years of cooking, I’ve never seen someone charge $12 for undercooked rice,” junior Michael Weirich said.

We are grieving the golden age of Campus Dining.

“Sometimes I can’t believe this dining situation is our reality. I get waves of shock because things [used] to be way different back then,” junior Christabel Hammond said. “It baffles me that students in lower years can’t even relate to having that experience.”

Sin 10: It might not get any better

Vanderbilt’s only incentive to solve this problem would be out of care for its students’ wellbeing; it’s not like we have a choice to opt-out of the “required” meal plan. However, they have made it very clear that this is not one of their primary concerns. We are a captive audience, required to consume the meal plan they tell us we have to. 

There is no incentive for them to change this system. 

Students have been living this reality, and we understand the causes—Vanderbilt says there is a labor shortage. We are privileged in many ways to have food to eat, but if Vanderbilt can’t get its act together, we shouldn’t have to buy such a robust meal plan. Vanderbilt requires first years to pay $3,188 per semester for 21 meals with upper grades paying slightly less each year for plans including fewer meals. Many of us would love to buy a much smaller meal plan and cook for ourselves to avoid the many sins of Vanderbilt dining. But, we aren’t allowed to do so. 

Instead, we settle for a dining plan that we have no say in, and in doing so, we settle for a quick cry in Rand on a Wednesday afternoon.