By Melchior Tuerk
Elm Staff Writer
Last summer, Washington College introduced AVI Foodsystems, Inc. as the campus’ new dining services provider. The brochure released to families and the campus community advertised diverse and healthy meal options, as well as late-night dining options on weeknights and weekends.
However, complaints flooded in since the beginning of the 2022 fall semester as the new food providers failed to fulfill students’ wants and needs. Issues range from lack of variety in meals, labeling mistakes, reduced dining options on weekends, and failure to satisfy students with restrictive diets.
One of the biggest issues in relation to variety is the lack of protein options and repetition in meals. Recent meals have included three forms of potato dishes, and repeated entrees for both lunch and dinner. Students have also made note of mislabeled foods and faulty online menus, which can endanger students who have allergies or follow restrictive diets. These students are also more limited in their dining options, with many relying on the Roots station and the occasional tofu entree for protein.
One of the more glaring issues is the state of the dining hall on weekends. With only two meals served on Saturdays and Sundays, and the hours lasting from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. many students find themselves spending money on fast food or groceries to satisfy them until the academic week begins.
Those who do find themselves in the dining hall on the weekend often have little competition for food. However, the food typically disappoints. With mainly breakfast foods being served between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., students may have access to one or two entrees or a slice of pizza during lunch hours. During dinner, students may see empty dishes under the warming light that are not quickly refilled. Dining options like the sandwich line, Roots station, Java George, Freshens, Boar’s Head, and Cravetown are also not available on the weekends, further reducing students’ options.
While these complaints are not new, students are still not seeing changes take place. Different representatives from the Student Government Association met with representatives from AVI – most recently the Executive Board with the support of faculty members – to address the ongoing issues, but communication and intentions for change remain unclear.
Sophomore Rachel Beall struggles with eating in the dining hall due to her restrictive diet. Beall eats all of her meals at the Roots station, leaving her without options on weekends.
After meeting with AVI and dining hall staff, Beall has seen little change in plant-based protein options and is repeatedly disappointed in the “lackluster” gluten-sensitive station. When bringing her issue to WC health staff, it was recommended that Beall reintroduce meat back into her diet, rather than the dining hall providing plant-based accommodations. Although she pays for a meal plan, Beall still finds herself supplementing with her own groceries, especially on weekends.
Klara Pecher, a current freshman, had to meet with AVI representatives before the fall semester to discuss dining options in regard to her Celiac’s disease.
“AVI was supposed to be more accommodating than the past meal [providers],” Pecher said, “so the school wanted me to not get a meal plan exemption.”
Pecher and her parents met with head chef Korey Goodman to ask about the accommodations that dining services would be able to make for students with Celiac’s disease.
“He basically said that they are accommodating to a certain extent,” Pecher said. “They wouldn’t be able to handle someone with Celiac’s disease.” After the meeting with Goodman, the school granted Pecher a meal plan exemption.
WC says that it prides itself on accessibility, but their inability to accommodate their students is undeniable.
Sophomore Emma Parker-Watt took over the dining services Instagram page at the start of Feb. 2023. Previous to her employment, the @wcdining page included close-up photos of meals, as well as photos of unaware students and visitors on their trips to the dining hall. Parker-Watt’s takeover provided students with plate inspiration, photos of smiling faculty and students, and highlighted catered school events.
“It started off really well…pretty constant communication,” Parker-Watt said. “And then, I [felt] like I was thrown into a job [where] I didn’t know what I was doing. I thought I was just supposed to do social media, and then they wanted me [to do] meetings with headquarters…they wanted me to print out labels…I really got to see the behind-the-scenes…now I’m actually looking to give the position to someone else.”
Parker-Watt enjoys the position, but is unable to sacrifice the time that dining services is looking for.
“I was passionate about it at the beginning, [but] I kinda lost the passion just because there’s such a disconnect, especially in the communication,” Parker-Watt said. “I’ve sat in on the dining hall meetings and it’s just always deflection.”
The recent SGA executive board meeting with district manager of AVI Lisa Brambley also ended this way. The April 4 senate minutes state that the dining hall placed blame on various other organizations, including the IT department and the business office, for their flaws.
Parker-Watt originally asked for the social media position because of the negative reputation of the dining hall and was eager to help counteract this. She wanted to help bridge the gap between students and dining hall staff. It was important to her to highlight how the dining hall brought students together, through photos of sports teams eating together and students enjoying outdoor eating spaces.
She also brought the TalkToTheManager program to students’ attention. The phone number ((302)-246-7045) allows students to send a text with any comments or concerns about their dining hall experience.
However, this feature still seems to be relatively unfamiliar to students. Freshman Michael Hudak used the number to praise the dining hall on their tofu options one day at lunch, making it easier to maintain his vegetarian diet. Funnily enough, the dining hall did not offer any tofu options for another three weeks after he sent his message. So, while the number is used intermittently, it is unclear if it is effective.
With concerns about student enrollment, the College cannot afford to continue disappointing students when it comes to vital issues such as the dining hall. AVI’s failure to satisfy and communicate with students and faculty may cost the WC students who are not accommodated by the school, and will not hold up the school’s dedication to inclusivity.
Elm Archive Photo
Photo Caption: At the beginning of the fall 2022 semester, many students were hopeful that the new dining services provider would improve the quality and variety of the food.