Even though Brigitte Bakalar is an on-campus student at Emerson College, she said she has refused to eat the food at the dining hall ever since her friend texted her a picture of a dead mouse in the establishment.
The sophomore created an online petition on Oct. 30 to create a conversation about having better food, cleaner cooking and eating facilities, and healthier choices at the school.
“The petition is really just to get a roll call of names to show to [President M. Lee] Pelton that people don’t like the status of the food that we are given at the school,” said the performing arts major.
The petition had 499 signatures as of press time. Bakalar’s goal is to get 500 backers before she presents her case to Pelton.
“Make our dining hall sanitary,” the petition states. “Serve high quality ingredients and food. Lower the price of our food and make it affordable.”
Balakar said she has been upset with the quality of the dining hall since the first day of her freshman year.
“As a vegetarian, there aren’t that many options,” she said. “The options that are there are a little questionable. I’ve heard some stories, this I don’t know for a fact, but the chicken nuggets they had last year, the fake ones, were real. Stuff like that is really off-putting.”
Steven Canario, general manager of dining services, said there was one instance last year when a new worker brought the wrong nuggets to the vegan bar, but the problem was quickly corrected.
Bakalar said she has also seen bugs and hair in her food on many separate occasions while at the dining hall.
Canario said a pest control company comes two to three times a week and makes sure Emerson is sanitary.
“The college has a very aggressive pest control program that goes throughout the campus,” he said. “We are in an urban setting and particularly at this time of year as the weather changes, the dynamics of pest control changes.”
Last month, Jay Phillips, associate vice president for facilities and campus services, told the Beacon that the college has not received any complaints of rodents or cockroaches in the dining hall in the past year and a half.
According to city of Boston records, Emerson’s dining facilities were not cited for pest problems this year or last. The Paramount Cafe did receive a violation in September, but Phillips said this was because of a mismarked sandwich.
Canario said he has read the petition and would encourage students to talk to him about their concerns on the dining hall.
“It’s not a big facility, but it doesn’t mean we can’t improve,” he said. “I would like to have direct feedback. I see the petition, I read it, and I value the comments. But I would rather meet with the students. We all want the same results. There is no secret agenda.”
In regards to the petition’s request for more appropriate pricing, Canario said he wants to have a survey of students asking them how many meals a week they think they need.
“We’ve got about 1,900 residents on a meal plan, and hopefully all of them will take the survey,” he said.
The Student Government Association began an initiative that lists suggestions for the dining hall in 2012. Many of the complaints in the initiative, which was released earlier this year, are repeated in Bakalar’s petition — more sanitary facilities, more vegetarian options, and different meal plans.
In the initiative, students complained about a problem with rodents, but Phillips told the Beacon last month that these complaints were inflammatory. He said the college has kept better logs since the original complaints.
Canario said he is interested in creating another meal plan to add to the three the college already offers to on-campus students.
Another idea Canario offered was introducing combo meals at venues like the Max Cafe and Emerson’s Cafe, combining two or three food items options in one package so students can save money.
“It helps students stretch their board bucks a little,” he said.
Canario said he would like to gather students and form a food committee before the end of the semester. He said he would like to include a variety of upper- and lower-classmen, vegetarians, vegans, athletes, and commuters in the group.
Some students who said they have similarly negative feelings towards the dining hall supported the petition.
“I signed it because I am a student athlete and it’s really important for me to have access to healthy foods in a clean environment,” said sophomore Savannah Hubbard.
The visual and media arts major said if she had the option to not be on the meal plan she would prefer to buy her own groceries.
Christina Catucci, a junior transfer student, said Suffolk, her previous college, uses Sodexo and she was disappointed to hear that Emerson does too.
“The corporate level needs to step it up,” she said. “After so many people complain, there has to be major issue for everyone to agree on.”
She said her issues with Sodexo have nothing to do with the workers, but with the food and the pricing.
“I wouldn’t mind paying that much if the food wasn’t horrible,” the visual and media arts major said.
Catucci said she doesn’t want to be concerned with what to eat when she steps foot on campus.
“You shouldn’t have to come to school and be stressed out about not being able to eat,” she said.
Bakalar said it isn’t her goal to start a controversy, but merely a dialogue.
“It’s not an attack on the school,” she said. “The food we get served is almost insulting, [and] they don’t think we will notice we pay way too much money.”