Third-year English major Jessica Bumgarner, like many other Case Western Reserve University students, gets lunch from Leutner Commons every day. With dining options limited this semester, there aren’t many other options available for students on the school meal plan. So Monday through Friday, Bumgarner goes into Leutner to get the to-go lunch. When she selects her sandwich or wrap—which, she notes, can be the same type for three days in a row—she is always given plastic utensils, chips, a dessert and an apple or orange on the side. The desserts rotate daily; the fruit, unfortunately, does not. There’s little to no variety in the food, which makes Bumgarner worry about the nutritious value of her meal: “The problem with the meals being really low-calorie is that either I have to give in and eat the chips and cookies, which is a lot of processed sugar, or I have to eat food from my own refrigerator when the cost of a meal swipe is $24.”
Bumgarner is not the only student unsatisfied with the meal plan. According to a recent Undergraduate Student Government (USG) survey taken by 552 students, on a 1-5 scale, students on average rated the dining halls this year a 3.32 in terms of freshness, but this figure dropped to a 2.68 when discussing health/nutritional value. Additionally, 45 percent of students thought that grab-and-go sizes were too small.
Catherine McManus, assistant professor at CWRU with a Ph.D. in nutrition and a registered dietitian, stresses the importance of variety in a nutritious diet. According to McManus, “A well-balanced diet pattern is important for short term and long term health. Not only does a nutritious diet support the immune system, but it helps with mental and emotional well-being.”
Students’ immune systems and mental health are both crucially important during this pandemic. In order to achieve the well-balanced diet that McManus describes, students need variety. McManus says, “Ideally a meal should have a variety of food from across and within food groups.” This means that getting an orange every day with lunch is not enough. That orange provides the same vitamins and nutrients every day which are different from apples, bananas, melon, grapes and all other fruits. There needs to be a variety within and across food groups for a diet to be truly balanced. The same can be said for salads. McManus stresses that, “Salad is not just green lettuce; it can be a fruit, quinoa, or bean salad.” Just as there needs to be variety in fruit, there needs to be a variety and expansion of what salad is and the nutrients it provides.
While McManus has not worked with Bon Appétit Management Company, the CWRU meal provider, she would love to. McManus sees Bon Appétit as a great opportunity to influence student eating habits. She explains that, “Bon Appétit is a great way to influence college students to help establish dietary patterns that will help them for the rest of their lives.”
However, in its current state, Bon Appétit isn’t providing the nutritious model that they declare on their website. Under the Wellness tab on their website, Bon Appétit states that, “When it comes to wellness, Bon Appétit’s focus is on simple, delicious food—that happens to be good for you. To support long-term health, we are bringing more plants to menus every day in a craveable way, while emphasizing healthy cooking techniques.”
The current limited side options, especially the deserts and chips, do not reflect this wellness mission. While Bon Appétit has more dine-in options, this isn’t a viable option for every student during the pandemic. Bumgarner herself feels this way, saying, “I’m not comfortable eating in, I would much rather take the food back to my dorm, and eating in results in a lot of plastic waste because of the utensils they make you use.”
More students are making their voices heard and taking action. Bumgarner herself went to Provost Ben Vinson III’s office hours to explain the current situation. She experienced great success, saying that the “Provost was really wonderful; he really seemed to care.” Immediately after their conversation, the provost followed up with Bon Appétit.
Additionally, USG is taking action. In the past, USG has had great success working with Bon Appétit. Vice President of Public Relations Alex Gould explains this success saying, “Last year we ran our first ‘annual food survey’ and it led to adjustments including regular swipes to Tomlinson, extended Bag-It hours and increased sizes of Subway sandwiches from six inches to a foot long.”
In addition to this, USG’s Student Life Committee has created a food subcommittee. This committee is constantly working to improve food by collecting student opinions in surveys like the one sent out last week. These surveys collect both quantitative and qualitative data from students that USG can present to administrators and Bon Appétit.
Individual students like Bumgarner and organizations like USG are not satisfied with the current nutritious value of the meal plan. CWRU students are not just complaining, but are taking action. Already, Bon Appétit has stopped automatically giving students plastic utensils and the chips and cookie side and, instead, asking if they are wanted. However, no new, more nutritious options have been provided yet. Bumgarner says it herself, “I am not asking for much. All I want is a nice cup of soup, low-fat Greek yogurt or a salad option. And I think I deserve that.”