USG and Bon Appetit come together to address student feedback

Anna Giubileo, Staff Reporter

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The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) has been working diligently in recent weeks to understand student thoughts and opinions on the meal plan and share them with Bon Appetit Management Company at Case Western Reserve University. 

Case School of Engineering Representative Sharan Mehta and Sophie Vilamara, vice president of the USG Student Life Committee, met with District Manager Jim O’Brien and Director of Auxiliary Services Beth Nochomovitz to discuss the results of their Feedback Friday focused on the meal plan. 

One of the major areas of contention from the student body was Fribley Commons extending its hours. While at the beginning of the year Fribley extended operating hours until 11 p.m. Sunday through Friday, not every student was satisfied with the follow-through by Bon Appetit staff at Fribley. 

“While I can swipe into Fribley until 11 p.m., it doesn’t guarantee there will actually be food I can eat,” said one student, who had a dietary restriction. “I went there one Wednesday around 9:30. The only food that was available was the wings and a tray of fries, and the server grabbed the fries with the same gloves he’d been grabbing wings with. They even closed up the cereal, salad and sandwich stations.”

When student comments such as the one above were brought up at the meeting, O’Brien and Nochomovitz were quick to answer. 

“We dealt directly with the management team [for Fribley] on two different occasions,” O’Brien explained in relation to the issue. As a result of those conversations, since about two weeks ago, “all of the other stations [that Bon Appetit publicized to be open late at night] are open—the grill, the salad bar and pizza.”

Nochomovitz shared that “there was definitely a communication issue, there was definitely a problem,” and it appears they have worked to resolve that issue. “It’s not your problem, it’s our problem. We are not always communicating what has been done about what’s been asked.”

Another major comment was the availability of healthy foods and foods which fit dietary restrictions such as vegetarianism, veganism, gluten sensitivity or general allergens. 

One student from the Feedback Friday form wrote, “I have deathly allergies and it makes it very difficult to feel comfortable eating at the dining venue. Often servers don’t know what’s in the food.”

One solution O’Brien and Nochomovitz had for that was for students to talk to the on-staff dietician, Megan Brzuski. However, they did acknowledge that many people often don’t reach out to her.

“We have a cultural problem on this campus. Our international students in general are not used to demanding stuff … It’s not generally acceptable in a lot of cultures to do that. If they won’t come to us they need to come to [USG].”

Another solution Bon Appetit is pursuing is creating a station at both Leutner Commons and the new Fribley dedicated solely to serving vegetarian and vegan food, in an attempt to cut down on cross-contamination concerns. This will be specifically built into the new design for Fribley, but first will be piloted at Leutner. Right now, Bon Appetit is meeting with a kitchen designer to redesign the “Fresh Table”—currently the pizza station at lunch and the taco station for dinner—for the vegetarian specific space. 

One concern Vilamara brought up, however, is that it might lessen the number of options available to vegetarians and vegans by segregating their food to one station only. As of right now, one can on average find about four out of the five stations have vegetarian options. However, O’Brien recognized that due to the policy around needing to change gloves every time you switch from serving meat to serving a vegetarian request, they will most likely be paring down on the number of vegetarian options available outside of the specific station. 

Nochomovitz said, “We’re anticipating that the folks who are not veg are going to be annoyed … I’m not acknowledging it’s perfect, but it’s better.” 

Mehta also brought up several reasons students wrote about why they wished they had the opportunity to opt out of the meal plan, including finances, lack of variety, unhealthiness and rude staff.

“Unhealthy and staff is rude—neither of [these reasons] resonate with me. But perception is reality. Whatever you say, I’m totally agreeing. You’re the student voice, I have to listen,” Nochomovitz responded. 

Nochomovitz mentioned that in terms of the schools that CWRU competes with—including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, Washington University in St. Louis, among others—it is just below the midpoint in pricing of the meal plan. 

One solution USG and the Bon Appetit representatives agreed on was sending out a breakdown of where meal plan pricing comes from, and what it goes towards. While many students tend to think of it as $17 for one swipe into the dining hall, Nochomovitz pointed out that the pricing also includes the wages of the dining hall staff, money to put toward renovations and operating costs, among other categories. Students can expect the monetary breakdown by the end of the semester. 

At certain times throughout the meeting, tensions began to rise as the USG representatives brought up a piece of student feedback that the representatives from the administrative side felt they had already addressed. 

In response to being asked whether he was there to fight, Mehta responded, “I don’t want to fight but I will always be here from the student perspective.”