Meal plan revisions to come next year

by Matthew D'Innocenzo / Correspondent • February 7, 2013

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Aramark's Dine With the Director was held in the Beard Room.
Aramark's Dine With the Director was held in the Beard Room.

Emerson Community for Healthy Dining Improvements, a Facebook group with 389 members, is looking to provide a centralized place for students to post commentary about the college’s food service options. 

Posts from students over the past three months have included photos of moldy spinach wraps and slime-ridden veggies from the dining hall. The page’s creator, Amelia Jimenez, said she started the group in an effort to take steps to improve college dining facilities. The group description asks members to voice their experiences with the college’s food services. 

Since creating Emerson Community for Healthy Dining Improvements on Dec. 6, Jimenez said she has met with President M. Lee Pelton and Associate Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services Jay Phillips. 

“It seems like [Pelton and Phillips] care [about improving dining services],” said Jimenez, a junior marketing communication major. 

Phillips said he is using the group to see student perspectives about the dining facilities.

Phillips said the college plans to release multiple new meal plan options that offer students more Board Bucks and fewer dining hall meals next semester, as students have been requesting. The exact details of new meal plans have not yet been finalized. Feedback that Phillips received from Jimenez and others helped him to craft this new plan.

“I am an advocate of any increase in constructive communication and feedback, so I do think that social media, in general, can be a helpful tool if used properly,” Phillips said in an email interview. “I also feel very strongly that social media should not replace the more traditional forms of communication and collaboration. … I would encourage our students to engage our dining services team.”

Phillips said he is in the process of creating a food services oversight committee as a way to work through issues brought up by the Emerson community, such as those on the Facbeook page. The student, administrator, and dining services management comprised group will discuss what changes need to be made to food services.

“In recent months, we have evaluated surveys, listened to feedback, and reached out to members of our community in an attempt to make adjustments as we are able,” Phillips said. 

Jimenez said she met with President M. Lee Pelton on Dec. 10 to discuss the group’s concerns with the food provided to students and faculty at Emerson. She said Pelton assisted her in crafting clear objectives to discuss with Phillips for a meeting they had on Jan. 29. The five principle areas for improvement in the dining hall as determined by Jiminez and Pelton are: health, quality, sanitation, variety, and value. 

 Although Jimenez invited the Facebook group members to meet with her and Phillips, she said none attended.

“It was kind of disappointing when no one came to talk to Phillips with me,” Jimenez said, adding that she is worried that student support on the issue is fizzling out.

Jimenez said one of the most common complaints in the Facebook group is of students getting sick after eating in the dining hall. Phillips said he urges students to report any food-related illness to the facilities and campus services department and the Center for Health and Wellness. 

“It is very important that they report this to our staff as well as consult with Health Services to make sure we can fully assess any potential issues,” Phillips said. “We have protocols in place that help us to recognize signs of foodborne illness and have not seen any evidence of this.” 

Jimenez said she never intended to be the leader of this group, and that her goal was simply to bring attention to the cause so that others could rise up and take over. She said she’s hoping change is actually effected from her work.

In a separate email to the Beacon, Pelton said that Emerson’s contract with Aramark, the catering company that provides food and hires workers for the college, ends sometime this year.

“Emerson is not moving forward with plans to no longer use Aramark,” Pelton wrote. “Ordinarily, when contracts expire, colleges and universities develop an open or selective bidding process where companies may compete for contracts based on value, cost, and services provided.  I assume that this is what we will do at Emerson.”

During a “Dine with the Director” event Wednesday evening, Aramark Food Service Director Christina Leal invited students to have dinner with her in the Beard Room in an attempt to get feedback from Emerson students.

“I think it’s important to get in touch with the students, find out what they really want to see as far as the dining program — things they love, things they hate, what they want to see changing,” she said. “Just kind of open the lines of communication.”