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Students shouldn’t have to worry about dining amidst pandemic

Just as Brandeis was in the midst of choosing a new dining provider for the upcoming academic year, the pandemic struck and, like everything else, dining got put on the backburner. We have come to expect a reasonable amount of dysfunction in our daily lives as a result of COVID-19, but we are more than five months into the academic year, and this semester’s dining experience seems incapable of pulling itself out of a nosedive. Vegetarians are finding chicken in their fajitas, gluten-free options are drying up and a general disregard for quality control and preparation oversight is resulting in a shocking quantity of erroneous orders. Campus-bound students without a kitchen have little choice but to put up with these disappointments again and again. Given that the meal plan is a non-optional cost of on-campus living, we feel that Brandeis is obligated to remedy these issues. 

Even if allergies and dietary restrictions were not a concern, online ordering is riddled with uncertainty. The services in Tres Habaneros and SubConnection completely lack oversight. Before the pandemic, students could watch their sandwiches and burritos be prepared. Safety restrictions, however, have necessitated that students stand well away from the sites of food preparation. The take-out nature of these meals means that, should anything be wrong with the order, students are not likely to realize until they have left the dining hall far behind. One student reports that they have never once received exactly what they ordered from Tres Habaneros across five different orders. 

Management is accommodating, and will replace mistaken orders without question, but the fast pace and decentralized nature of Brandeis’s digital learning environment makes rectifying errors all the more difficult. This is a shame because, by and large, mobile ordering is an amazing use of technology. The ability to order ahead and pay in advance allows students to organize their lives with greater efficiency than ever before. Unfortunately, this ease of use does not seem to extend to the food preppers behind the counters, who seemingly become flooded with receipts without a clear indication of priority or extras. Ordering from Upper Usdan in its current state is like gambling with your meal swipe.

Previous editorials have discussed the weakness of adherence to social distancing in Brandeis’s various dining spaces. It should be reiterated that pick-up dining options like Upper Usdan and Dunkin’ Donuts are especially prone to unsafe waiting conditions. In the absence of dedicated waiting lines, students pretty much just mill around. During busy hours, the quantity of waiting bodies becomes ridiculous. The dining halls are not much better, and the newly installed stanchions demarcating lanes for different food items seem to inhibit social distancing more than they help. To escape the burger lines, students have to either duck under the dividers or pass by the students waiting behind them. Enforcement of distancing is sporadic. Indoor dining has reopened, sometimes exacerbating the already claustrophobic numbers.

Since many of us live on campus, we are very familiar with food in the dining halls—perhaps a little too familiar. Lately, we have been noticing a decrease in quality of the food in both the dining halls and in Upper Usdan. Many of the food options on which students depend are being taken away. Many students do not have any other option but to eat food provided by the university, and the current options do not meet every student’s need. 

Many of the dining needs for students are being ignored, especially on the Bite app. At Louis’ Deli, they listed for weeks that they had gluten-free bread, but upon picking up orders, students were told that they did not, in fact, have gluten-free bread and would have to substitute for a different option. Gluten-free bread is now no longer an option to choose on the Bite app and remains unavailable at Louis’ Deli. 

While menus for the dining halls are available on the Bite app, the kosher side of Sherman is neglected, and it is not listed on the Sodexo website either. It can be frustrating to decide where to eat when the quality of the food is unclear. Louis’ Deli has a set menu, but the variety and customizability of the sandwiches shrank dramatically this semester. However, with no kosher menu listed for Sherman, people are left to decide whether to go to something relatively reliable or take a risk with the dining hall. Plus, even the menus that are posted are not particularly helpful since they are inaccurate most of the time. The menus may claim that there are many delectable options only for you to arrive to find the same pizza and cold burgers. 

Additionally, there does not seem to be any supervision or oversight on the orders. Many students on campus have reported having plastic in their food. This is a huge hazard for students and can cause people to choke.   

We are not asking for gourmet food in the dining halls, but we do at the very least expect the food to be safe to eat and that there be some options for students with dietary restrictions. Getting what we actually order would be nice too. Sodexo needs to ensure that the food served to students is safe for consumption. That does not feel like an unreasonable request, and we hope that the situation improves sooner rather than later.

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