Advocate for yourself when you eat in the dining hall

VeganOptions_MarkCooleyEDITEDBy Victoria Gill

Opinion Editor

At Washington College, we talk about food in the negative: the retail locations in the bottom of Hodson Commons Hall are not opened long enough, it is a toss up as to what is being served at every meal, there are not enough options for restrictive diets, the eggs are too soggy, etc.

Has anyone from dining services been informed about these shortcomings? Have you been doing it yourself?

With all the new changes implemented by WC this summer, the dining hall in Hodson does not look the same.

According to Prince Johnson, director of dining services, because of summer transitions, many staff members are starting new jobs. As a result, there is no training time, only learning on the go.

Changes have not been received with a positive response. Students still grumble about dietary accessibility and the sometimes confusing, mismatched display of options.

The best option for you is to advocate for yourself and want to be heard.

“Staff and faculty eating in the dining hall with students is not common at most colleges,” said Maria Hynson, dining services office manager.

This intimacy for WC members enhances the opportunity for more personal discussions between the students who inhabit these spaces and the staff that provide.

“One of the biggest things we try to do for those with dietary needs is to self-identify. Identify who you are. Come let us know. Meet with our chef and allow him to walk you through our dining hall, and show you what we have, what is available and some things a lot of students don’t know is that we will cook for you,” Johnson said.

Johnson visits other schools to see how they run meal programming, and he thinks WC is one of the best between food quality and meal plans.

“It’s the connection at a smaller school that I think is better than at a larger school,” Johnson said.

All of the assistant sous chefs have allergy training every summer to make sure that no one gets sick. This even goes for all the retail locations: Martha’s Kitchen, Create, and Java George. Instead of troughs of food, there are more fresh options. To be as customizable as possible, options such as gluten-free dough, special pans, and cooking stations that are away from cross-contamination.

“We have such a huge open-door policy, just come talk to us. Like if you have an allergy issue, you can’t find something to eat, come see me. What do you want today?” Johnson said. “You don’t have to just eat what you see. We’re more than willing to make it. We’re glad to have this small community because you can get that from us.”

The dining staff try to listen to their students as much as possible.

Because of this, they have already had conversations with the SGA to have a new sandwich at Create for vegetarians. But something like sushi is not an option the dining hall can provide immediately, although possibly on special occasions.

Then why is there angry commentary among the student body? Why are there not enough individuals speaking up?

“It’s because we’re apparently terrifying,” Hynson said, with a laugh.

Students should be sending emails. According to Hynson, the lack of open conversation arises from a fear of overstepping boundaries and being a bother.

The dining hall staff want students to bother them, according to Johnson. Hynson says, if something is wrong, let them know. Hodson Commons is a big building; they may not see it.

“As an institution, that’s what we are, right? We’re supposed to be a place to learn,” Hynson said.

Some initiatives taken for switching it up in the dining hall is the annual chefs table. Once a month the head chefs will personally cook a full meal for twelve random students and faculty members of various roles and experiences on campus, along with President Landgraf.

After they finish eating, they take a survey. This meal, on occasion, includes vegan and vegetarian options, but can accommodate to a student’s needs on the spot if a dietary restriction applies.

According to Johnson, they are considering doing a full vegan chef’s table in the future. The list of spots at the chef’s table is open if students are interested in participating. Contact Maria Hynson or Prince Johnson for more details.

As we attend WC, it is the job of the students to make or break their own experiences in every facet of it. I urge you to self-advocate for the sake of yourself during this period where many learn for the first time how to do so. College is the place to do it.

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