April 8, 2021

DELGADO | A Message to Cornell Dining Staff: Thank You

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Not all heroes wear capes at Cornell University, but some share this common attribute: responsibility for our student population’s nourishment. Over the past decade, Cornell Dining has placed within the top 10 of U.S. dining hall services based on student satisfaction, sustainability initiatives and versatility, among other factors. Furthermore, Cornell boasts ten fully functional, unique dining halls — and various cafés and quick-stop shops — accessible to students, faculty and staff. At times, however, the efforts of Cornell Dining’s staff are overlooked, especially by the student body.  

During my first year as an undergraduate, I often found myself dashing to Appel Commons with my peers, diving into the endless buffet of turkey burgers, sesame chicken and collard greens. Food creation is an under appreciated art which maintains our homeostasis necessary to complete daily tasks, and its curators are no less than artists themselves. Being conversationally ravenous, I’d often engage in dialogue with the staff to learn about their experiences at Cornell — hours-long shifts with seas of students and mountains of wasted food drifting along congested conveyor belts. 

Since my freshman year, I have often listened to unfavorable rants by my peers discussing how unsatisfactory dinners have been, spawning undeserved negativity for Cornell Dining. Sure, there are nights when I’m not the biggest fan of what’s being served. Nonetheless, I appreciate the amount of work and creativity that goes into each dish. 

What is that staff member who may rely on having this job for income supposed to do? Regardless, why should dining employees bear the brunt of rash judgement for the university’s domain?

I applaud the dining hall’s efforts to offer a diversity of meal options. The dining hall 104West! is known for providing Cornell with kosher options, holding STAR-K (meat and pareve) and STAR-D (dairy) certifications. There, Jewish dietary regulations are appropriately  followed and spearheaded by a resident “Mashgiach,” or kosher food supervisor. Moreover, Cook House Dining Room regularly serves meals inspired by a variety of international cuisines, incorporating new dishes, ingredients and cultural awareness into our dining experience.

Michele Lefebvre, Cornell Dining’s previous director, often spoke with me in regards to my severe tree-nut allergy, guiding me through processes in which to acquire allergy-friendly foods. I’d often enter the dining halls with an eased mind, a sensation only familiar within my own kitchen. Becker House Dining Room’s beloved Hazelnut, who scanned students’ dining cards, would often greet my family whenever my younger siblings would visit campus.

Despite these efforts, staff members still get the short end of the stick when it comes to appreciation and gratitude for their time and effort. After speaking with some employees and heavily examining compiled reviews, there are several alterations that should be made in order to enhance the dining hall experience for staff. 

The Big Red Apple Program aims to recognize individual efforts amongst Cornell Dining staff, providing opportunities for students and customers to tangibly express their gratitude. Although it’s a respectable initiative, I believe that Cornell can provide a better system to recognize these efforts. Granted, because of COVID-19, Cornell Dining has provided a phone number for students to text to recognize staff members. Still, a more integrated and public commitment to staff efforts would go a long way. 

Furthermore, I believe my fellow peers and I have a role to play; we also have a responsibility to ensure our dining hall staff feels appreciated. Whenever you see an employee, smile and thank them for their diligent work. Cleaning up after ourselves also saves tons of time and frustration for the workers, and we should have the decency to make their jobs as stress-free as possible.

To the dining hall employees of Cornell University — including student workers and full time staff — I thank you for every hour of laborious work. The dining hall community of Cornell University needs more recognition, and both the institution and the students need to better highlight the credit they deserve.

Canaan Delgado is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at cdelgado@cornellsun.com. The Land of Canaan runs every other Wednesday this semester.