Hating the food at college may be a time-honored tradition, but it’s one that needs to stop at Whitworth.
Students are allowed to have opinions on Sodexo, whether they like the food, hours or cost. Students have that freedom, but when complaining about the food service is all that they do, without working to change the things they do not like or even asking those in charge if they can make said changes, it devalues the hard work people in food service do to ensure that students are fed, and fed well.
“People always have a perception a lot of times that school food is not good,” Whitworth Sodexo Executive Chef Timothy Grayson said.
When students complain without working to change the factors they are complaining about, they create a negative culture surrounding food service that devalues the thorough preparation and hard work that food service employees put into getting food to the plates.
Whatever a student may think about Sodexo, they are nationally recognized for the work they put into improving the quality of life of those that they serve, which is their mission according to the Sodexo website.
Sodexo has received multiple awards this year for its continued work toward healthy and sustainable food service. According to the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) website, Sodexo was awarded PHA’s Partner of the Year in 2016 for “working to ensure the health of our nation’s youth.”
Based on the numerous accolades Sodexo has won, commitment to providing healthy food and hiring a diverse workforce, students can quantitatively assume that Sodexo is a great company for food service.
Looking qualitatively at the food service from Sodexo, students can see that Whitworth specifically has good food service on an individual level. Sodexo works to provide food options on for students with diverse eating needs, dietary restrictions or preferred diets. Many options are available to students they may not be aware of, Grayson said.
“As far as dietary needs, we have really made, I think, a trend-setting effort to try to improve in those areas,” Grayson said.
In order to accommodate individuals with those needs, Sodexo provides many options. For individuals with celiac disease or who are gluten-intolerant, there is gluten-free alternative section in the dining hall with pre-packaged gluten free products.
“It’s not cheap, that stuff,” Grayson said. “We’re not sparing expense or cutting corners to keep these people safe.”
While it’s always possible for mistakes to happen and that something could go wrong, the employees at Sodexo make every effort to prevent things such as cross-contamination of allergen-containing foods.
Other considerations exist for those who are vegan or vegetarian, and even for individuals who are simply more health conscious.
In order to prevent individuals from accidentally digesting an allergen, Sodexo labels food containing nuts and other allergens near the food and on the digital menu board.
“Every single thing is not labeled, unfortunately, but we try to do as much as we can,” Grayson said.
Students at Whitworth are oftentimes not aware of their options, said Grayson, who personally meets with students who request it to customize meal plans.
There are some individuals whose diets are so restricted that food service workers prepare them meals from scratch in the kitchen. They also make sack lunches that are gluten free.
For some students with very restricted diets, Grayson buys a selection of pre-packaged foods they are able to eat to take back to their dorm, so that they don’t go hungry between meals.
“We can’t know everything that’s going on unless somebody communicates to us,” Grayson said. “If somebody’s having issues then we need to know so we can address how we are going to handle it with [them]. It’s a two-way effort.”
One reason students may not come forward about having certain dietary needs is the perception of a stigma surrounding having such needs, Grayson said. He assures students that Sodexo does not stigmatize anyone with dietary restrictions, and that having such problems is not uncommon.
If a student is struggling with a dietary restriction such as allergies, celiac disease or any other health concern, Grayson said he wants them to come talk to him, and he will work to help them.
Although students may look at the dining hall in a negative light, unless they’ve tried to actively work with people like Grayson in charge of food services to change whatever they do not like, they should stop complaining.
Students’ concerns may be legitimate, but without working proactively toward solutions together, simply complaining to nearby people doesn’t do any good. It just devalues the hard work people do in order to bring food to the table.