September 17, 2001

Dining Committee Explores Changes

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“Food is where the heart is,” said Esther Tang ’02, who chairs the Dining Committee of the Student Assembly (S.A.). The committee meets weekly to review policies and budgets for dining services as well as taking into account student suggestions and recommendations.

“All anyone needs to do to make a difference is ask,” Tang said. “For example, someone from West requested waffles in Jansen’s and at our first Dining Committee meeting of the year, we arranged for it to happen.”

With the active participation of the Dining Committee, meal plan and meal options are annually revised. Changes already in effect for the 2001-2002 academic year include a new sushi chef program, pizza station and hickory smoke station in Trillium and a pizza station in the Ivy Room which will open in October.

Among concerns that students expressed, many complained of the crowded space in Ivy Room which prompted the removal of the salad bar.

“We found that salad bar usage was very minimal,” said Nadeem Siddiqui, director of dining services. “It was important to get traffic moving, especially at lunchtime, when students are looking to pick something up between classes.”

In an effort to expedite the process and further relieve traffic congestion, a pizza station has also been added adjacent to the seating area.

“It’s still been really slow,” said Alexandria Reynolds ’04, who frequently eats at Ivy Room. “Sometimes when it’s really crowded, the lines get confused.”

Jose Ferrer, an employee, noted that while they received some complaints, many students were pleased with the additional space in the Ivy Room. Rather than removing the salad option entirely, packaged basic salads were made available.

“They need more vegetarian food,” said Sameer Gupta ’03, who eats at the Ivy Room daily. “You can only eat salad, pasta and pizza for so long. They’ve been trying to bring in some Indian food at Okenshields, but it’s still not that great.”

“There were just so many things to choose at the original salad bar,” Ferrer said. “We ended up throwing out a lot of food daily.”

The Ivy Room’s neighbor, Okenshield’s, an all-you-can eat dining facility, has also seen changes this fall.

According to Siddiqui, a Tapas Bar, which would allow students to sample small portions of many different menu items is being added.

“We’re also working with different student music groups who will perform during the evenings,” he said.

Siddiqui highlighted numerous feasibility studies being conducted that will help better seating, service, traffic and food programs.

Other plans include a campus-wide pastry program and a grill and fryer in Jay’s X-ing for burgers and fries, which would equate it with services in Bear Necessities on North Campus in the Robert Purcell Community Center. Siddiqui also noted that Cornell Dining will be looking into the offerings at Hughes, which mainly services Cascadilla and Sheldon Court, this fall.

In addition, Risley Dining was renovated during the summer in order to cater to student needs and offer greater options to students on North Campus. Rather than running two large facilities during the day, Cornell Dining chose to close RPCC for breakfast and lunch. Traffic is thereby redirected to North Star, the new dining facility in the Community Commons.

“North Star is very consistent in what is serves,” said Nathaniel Doyno ’05. “I haven’t seen daily rotations except in soups and salads.”

Other concerns students have raised involve the ambiguity of using meal equivalencies at retail stores like Bear Necessities and Jay’s X-ing.

“Sometimes I can’t make the hours because I have classes, so I have to use a meal equivalency at Bear Necessities,” Doyno said. “I want to eat healthy and meal equivalencies shouldn’t mean junk food. Cornell has a responsibility to provide healthy meal options.”

Doyno noted that numerous items such as a rice cakes, Nutri-Grain bars and applesauce which are designated as “grocery items” cannot be bought under a meal-equivalency.

“You can’t buy anything that’s not a single serving that leaves chips and candy bars,” Doyno added. “It’s deliberate too — stocking is done such that students can’t use up their equivalency on healthy items.”

Some students also felt that more vegetarian and vegan options need to be added in order to accommodate the diverse student population.

Gupta suggested bringing in franchises such as Pizza Hut and Burger King on-campus like many other universities do.

“They should just get a McDonald’s or Taco Bell on campus,” he said.

In order to address the need for multicultural food on-campus, Cornell has taken over responsibility for the Kosher Dining Hall (KDH) and a multicultural program in the Community Commons on North, according to Joe Regenstein, a faculty fellow, who heads the Cornell Kosher Food Initiative.

“It is a real challenge each year to put together a plan that really meets student needs and at the same time represents a break-even operation for dining — which is an enterprise unit — it does not get a University subsidy,” he said.

Regenstein noted that the multicultural program aims to identify products students would like to eat and those they would want to avoid.

In other efforts to accommodate students, Siddiqui noted that partnerships were continued to be developed with local restaurants in an effort to allow students to use their ID to purchase meals off campus.

“Students will be able to put money in secondary account called (Flex Dollar) and they pay tax on it on this account an can/will be used for off-campus partnership,” Siddiqui said.

“Our focus is very clear: improve services and maintain financial accountability,” Siddiqui said. “We really want students to be part of the process.”

Tang also emphasized the need for student feedback to programs and ideas.

“I hope that we become a more viable option for help to anyone who has Cornell Dining concerns.” she said, referring to the Dining Committee.

Archived article by Tanvi Chheda