Things in My Dartmouth Quarantine Meal that Just Make Sense

by Anne Johnakin | 9/23/20 2:05am

dds

Dartmouth Dining has reconfigured the seating inside of ’53 Commons to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

by Lorraine Liu / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

If you’ve seen any college food review TikToks, you’ll recognize the title of this article. NYU went viral near the end of August for its particularly egregious meal options for students in quarantine, including a whole lemon as a side dish and the infamous watermelon chicken salads served to vegetarians.

Having seen these TikToks in the weeks leading up to Dartmouth students’ return to campus, I was nervous to see how things would pan out. Would Dartmouth Dining food inspire snarky TikTok reviews, or would it live up to the Foco cookie legacy?

For Dartmouth Dining, serving 1,700 students quarantined in their rooms for a week was a huge undertaking. According to Jon Plodzik, director of Dartmouth Dining, the planning process started in March, led by a task force that met weekly to figure out how to feed students upon arrival. 

“I may be a little bit biased, but I think we’ve done an excellent job in a really difficult situation,” Plodzik said. “With our six venues around campus, we’re making the food fresh here at ’53 Commons, shipping it out to all these locations and executing the program that way.” 

“That’s not to say that it didn’t have a few bumps along the way,” Plodzik added.

Even with all the planning done to prepare, the first week of fall definitely had its hiccups. Students were sent a survey to indicate their dietary restrictions and allergies to ensure they would receive appropriate meals. However, when the time came to receive their food, some students were disappointed.

“I put down dairy-free on my form, and yet they’ve continually sent me milk, sandwiches with cheese, Doritos, all sorts of dairy products in my food,” Bella Sicker ’23 said. “For me, it was just frustrating, but I imagine for others this is a really serious issue where they couldn’t eat the food they were getting.”

According to Sicker, the majority of meals she received during the first phase of the quarantine had a major component that she could not eat.

One reason for these errors comes from the large number of students who indicated that they had dietary restrictions, including allergies, vegetarianism and veganism and religious restrictions. According to Elizabeth Rosenberger — a registered dietitian who works with Dartmouth Dining to handle nutritional issues — there are normally around 30 to 40 reported students with food restrictions per year. This year, around 400 students marked down that they needed some type of accommodation, with 87 individual allergens identified. 

The issues arose mainly with the food that was prepared well in advance, particularly the breakfast meal bags, according to Rosenberger.

“Unfortunately in the first couple of days, the bags weren’t being checked as carefully as they could’ve been. Somebody would get a breakfast bag with milk in it when they would’ve preferred almond milk or soy milk,” Rosenberger said. After realizing this was an issue, Rosenberger added, Dartmouth Dining began double-checking bags after they left Foco to ensure they contained the correct contents. 

Additionally, Dartmouth Dining modified some of its menus to account for the large amounts of people that didn’t eat foods like dairy or pork, according to Rosenberger.

Plodzik also noted that Dartmouth Dining has added additional menu options for halal students after hearing concerns from the Muslim student group Al-Nur. He said that they plan on including these new products in their regular menu as well. 

Now that students are free to leave their rooms and pick out the food they want, there are fewer issues with students receiving food they cannot eat. 

Penelope Spurr ’24, who follows a vegetarian diet, said she was pleasantly surprised that Foco was experimenting with using alternative meat products, such as plant-based meatballs, rather than sticking to conventional or bland vegetarian options. 

While food options are just one concern, there is another issue — for most Dartmouth students, Dartmouth Dining provides more than just the food it serves. One of the hallmark experiences of Dartmouth that COVID-19 has taken from the ’24s is being able to eat a straight-out-of-the-oven Foco cookie or sit down for large group meals with their fellow freshmen.

“I don’t think that they know what they’re missing, which is kind of even sadder in a way,” Sicker said. “When I was new to Dartmouth, the meals that I had at Foco or Collis were really important social events and helped me eventually find my friends. I imagine that this is another thing that is making it more difficult for the ’24s to find each other and socialize.” 

Dartmouth Dining has been doing its best to keep people excited and interested in the food, even if it isn’t in the Foco dining room quite yet. 

“The feedback has been phenomenal,” Plodzik said. “We’ve been running little things along the way to add some excitement in the program. Today we’re offering Mac’s Maple cotton candy as a little treat. We’re trying to do some fun stuff to represent this part of the country and keep things exciting for students.”

So while I haven’t seen very many Dartmouth food TikToks, Librex, an anonymous social media platform with a Dartmouth-specific forum, holds quite a few opinions on the food. For every negative comment, there are posts like “FRENCH TOAST STICKS SLAPPED” and “Cheesecake is heat: More of this DDS thank u.” 

Plodzik says he’s excited to get back into the regular dining program on Friday, and he expects students to be pleased as well.

“Everyone should realize all of us in dining are here because of students,” Plodzik said. “We love what we do and we love to talk to you about how we’re doing things. If there are things we can do better, let me know. And if there are things we’re doing great, tell me that too. We’re trying to create the best program in the country for the best students in the country.”