Food Committee plans program adjustments

In light of recent changes in dining, the College’s Food Committee, comprised of members of both College Council (CC) and Dining Services, has begun reviewing student reactions to dining changes, soliciting suggestions from the campus community and furthering research into sustainable initiatives within dining.

The Food Committee, which has existed for approximately a decade and meets on a monthly basis, includes the executive chef, lead chefs and dining hall managers for Mission Park, Driscoll and Whitmans’ as well as students selected by CC.

“Our main focus right now is how are we doing with our programs and what we need to address with the new system change,” said Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining.

Abayasinghe, who serves on the Food Committee, said he and other dining staff members closely monitor student feedback through media like WSO, the Record and CC meetings and that they also strive to be visible in dining halls and open to student comment.

“I personally have a lot of meetings with [dining],” said Ifiok Inyang ’11, CC co-president and Food Committee member. “They’re always in the dining halls. They really do a good job about being visible.”

Inyang said he makes a point to speak informally with Dining Services about two or three times a week.

“They really use the Food Com. and CC as a resource, and that allows us to have a really good relationship with them,” he said.
Abayasinghe said that pre-dining changes, the committee had mainly spent its time reflecting on the dining program, but over the past several weeks, the committee has been tasked with observing and examining recent dining trends.

At its most recent meeting on Oct. 5, the Food Committee discussed increasing breakfast options in Whitmans’ to include cereals, yogurt and made-to-order eggs, something several students present at the meeting suggested. Committee members also discussed reintroducing food items to Whitmans’ Late Night that were served at Snack Bar last year.

“When we created our Late Night program, we wanted to create a distinct identity between Lee Snack Bar and Late Night,” Abayasinghe said. He cited certain features and appliances in Whitmans’, including the teppanyaki grill used for making vegan dishes, and the salad table that is larger and more convenient to use than the one that served Snack Bar last year.

“There were definite [menu] additions that we could make,” Abayasinghe said. He noted that keeping the menu identical to last year’s Snack Bar offerings “wouldn’t really have utilized our ability to make healthy items,” Abayasinghe said.

He added that Dining Services made a point to keep on the Late Night menu items such as mozzarella sticks, burgers, fries, gelato and smoothies that were popular at Snack Bar last year. In response to a question many students have asked, Abayasinghe said last year’s chicken patty has been replaced by a grilled chicken sandwich, which he said serves as a food option that is more diverse alongside the chicken tenders, which are also new this year.

According to Abayasinghe, the Food Committee is working to reintroduce honey buns to Whitmans’ and to introduce falafel food options as early as two weeks from now.

Another issue the Food Committee is looking at is sustainability on campus. The College has implemented the reusable to-go container as an alternative to last year’s paper to-go box, and more environmentally friendly changes are on the way.

Erwin Bernhart, associate manager of Paresky Center and Food Committee member, said he is currently researching a reusable container to hold liquids, including soup, coffee, cereal and yogurt.

“At some point, we want to step away or significantly reduce our paper cups,” Bernhart said. “That would be the next step in the reusable container program.” He added that while Dining Services would implement the program in order to reduce waste on campus, the College would save money as well.

Bernhart is also working on better publicizing the current reusable to-go box initiative to “make more people aware of this program” and eliminate confusion.

Abayasinghe and Inyang both stressed the importance of open communication between the student body and the dining staff, and Inyang said the Food Committee serves just that purpose.

“The biggest benefit is that the Food Committee gives Dining a direct line into student opinions and what they’re feeling,” Inyang said. “It’s a perfect blend of bringing the top level administration and the sophomore who’s eating at Mission to be at the same table and have a frank conversation about what’s good and what’s not working.”