Our campus is known for many things: rolling hills, distinctive faculty, an active student population and terrible food. Sure, it might be common for college students to focus so much on their terrible food options, but this issue is especially true of Brandeis. I’m not going to be commenting—or complaining—about food quality again in this article, but rather focusing on an emerging issue for our students.
Despite problems with food quality, Sodexo has actually been working on improving their selection. They’ve scheduled a number of theme nights and special events, focusing cuisine on workers’ countries of origin. Personally, I think it is a really great way to help unite the campus with the Sodexo staff and was also a genius marketing campaign.
When we allow Sodexo employees to prepare the food of their homelands, we show that as a campus community we value them. They’re not just the person who makes chicken, or the guy who washes the plates, but someone with a story we want to hear. We ought to all recognize the incredible work these people put in, especially during all the storms we’ve had, and this is a great way to do so. Beyond that, the campaign gives people the chance to try new cuisines and expand their culinary boundaries. Most students probably couldn’t tell you what the traditional starches of Brazil are, and even fewer have actually eaten cassava (it tastes similar to a potato). Getting the chance to try it helped me learn a little more about the spirit of Brazil and its culture. Plus, when students all get to try a new experience together, we can bond over our new experience. When we eat together, we all get to grow.
Well, most of us get to eat together. For some of us, those with food allergies who cannot pick up a fork without an ingredient list, theme nights are much harder to enjoy. Oftentimes, ingredient lists aren’t provided for the special food options, and those with dietary restrictions can’t partake. You could ask the staff members, but they often don’t know ingredients for options that are only available for a day. Though pizza can be tasty, denying people reasonable options in choosing their meal is critical, especially since our meal plans cost so much. Just providing nutritional information can go a long way to helping students have reasonable options.
Even when information is provided, however, people with food allergies still take a risk when eating foods made by people other than the regular chef. There’s always a risk of cross-contamination no matter where you eat, but when someone is cooking in a new kitchen that chance becomes even higher. It only takes a lone misplaced sauce or improperly cleaned counter to potentially kill someone, and disruption in the kitchen staff increases that risk. I’m sure you think I’m exaggerating, but the risk is all too real.
Just last week, a student with a peanut allergy had to be rushed to the hospital after eating a contaminated meal in Usdan. The label didn’t indicate anything was wrong, but that doesn’t really help when you need emergency medical attention. We need to take serious steps to make sure no one is hospitalized for careless mistakes. Brandeis should label all food made by guest chefs, so that people have a reasonable chance to opt out of consuming those dishes. We also ought to improve the safety standards of our kitchens so people don’t have to fear eating new foods. What occurred was a terrible accident, but if it happens again it is all of our faults.
It’s great that Sodexo is trying to expand our food options, but they need to focus first on the safety of our students. Providing students only with foods they can’t safely enjoy leaves students left out and confused as to what they can eat. It’s great that we’re providing students cultural opportunities, but we can make our food options more accessible.