Why you’re wrong about campus dining

Although Dining has made changes that frustrate some, we should consider it one of the costs of creating an inclusive campus.

The people have spoken. Rand cookies have returned.

Responding to the petition and boycott against the new, smaller Rand cookies, Vanderbilt Campus Dining announced that it will restore Rand cookies to their original larger size. Other changes, such as the removal of Flex-meals from the standard meal plans and the $50 meal money rollover limit, persist. Although these changes frustrate many, Dining as a whole should be commended for its efforts on two fronts: the department’s willingness to respond to student criticism and its recent efforts to make eating on campus more inclusive.

During my two years at Vanderbilt, I’ve seen my fair share of changes in Dining. Among the changes, there is one that sticks with me: Pi’s switch from personal pan pizzas to slices. Some were not receptive to the shift, saying that they preferred having a pizza all to themselves. What these critics did not notice was that with the switch to slices came faster lines and more pizza per purchase. While I can’t say how this affected the Pi workers themselves, I can say that I personally appreciated not having to wait in line for 15 minutes during lunch hour for a teeny little pan pizza.

All change is imperfect, but no one can say that Dining doesn’t listen to students’ concerns. We can look at the return of the Rand cookie for one example of how the student population can directly shape menu options. Another example is the Kissam Kitchen, which removed its daily Taco Bar due to poor reception.

More importantly, however, is that Dining has become more accessible than ever before. Rand, Kissam Kitchen and other campus options now serve Halal meat for Muslim students with religious restrictions. The new 2301 Café was designed so that those with severe food allergies don’t need to worry about their throats closing up when they eat. Dining also extended its hours and introduced Branscomb Breakfast for the weekend night-owls. These measures are not perfect by any means, but it is a work in progress.

For those of us who have no religious or dietary restrictions, it feels like dining is trying to squeeze us for every penny we have, all for food that some of us down-right hate. Nevertheless, Dining’s steps into the world of accessible eating are important for the survival of those who need extra help getting nourishment.

If we want to say that we’re a campus community that is open to students of all backgrounds, then we need to be willing to accept the discomfort that follows from our institutions evolving to make room for everyone. Are Vandy students going to draw the line of inclusion at our stomachs? I hope not.

However, just because we should be willing to shoulder some of the costs of accessibility does not mean we shouldn’t fight for even better dining options. I’ll be the first to say that Chef James’ food is passable at best and that Kissam Kitchen’s performance has been inconsistent as of late. We should hold Dining accountable, encouraging the department to provide us with options that are as tasty as they are inclusive.

That means that, instead of just complaining on Dank New Rand memes, we need to keep up the fight. Submit comment cards to Dining. Tell your friends to boycott problematic parts of Dining to incentivize improvement. Start eating off campus more, especially at places that do not take the Commodore Card. Vote with your wallets.

Let the Rand cookie, restored to its healthy size and flavor, serve as our symbol of a better tomorrow for our tummies. We all deserve nothing less.

Todd Polk is a junior in Peabody College. He can be reached at todd.o.polk@vanderbilt.edu.

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