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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Turning the page in dining services: improvement or more of the same

Published: September 6, 2013
Section: Opinions

The new Sodexo dining service on campus is the hottest new change and the most debated topic. With changes popping up all over the place, it’s no wonder everyone has something to say about what there is to eat.
Last year, everyone complained about Aramark’s lack of variety and poor quality prison food. Yes, Aramark serves food in 600 correctional facilities across North America. During the last few months of school, however, Aramark began to clean up its act in an attempt to impress us. We saw “100 Plates” where cooks would stand in the middle of Sherman handing out a hundred plates of sushi, falafel, donuts, watermelon gazpacho and various other new dishes. Aramark also tried to celebrate different holidays and events with creative festivities. There was chicken nugget night, Chinese New Year dinner, Mexican fiesta evening and there were always cakes for each month’s birthdays.
This year, Sodexo’s food seems pretty much the same, but there is less variety. I must admit, I only eat kosher, so I primarily stick to the right side of Sherman and do not eat at Usdan. While I have heard some horror stories about rainbow green beans and diarrhea from the non-kosher side, the kosher food has always tasted good, maybe not incredible but satisfactory. Sodexo’s food tastes exactly the same to me. Chicken is chicken and vegetables are vegetables, but the disappointing factor is the variety.
Many are outraged over the lack of vegan food in Usdan. Now that the Vegan Corner is gone and Simple Servings serves mostly meat entrees, vegans and even vegetarians are confined to side dishes and salads. While those who keep kosher have to worry about separating milk and meat, vegans can’t eat either.
I am not a vegan, but I am also sorely disappointed with the lack of options on the kosher side of Sherman. The salad bar is usually my staple, but this year there are fewer veggies from which to choose. But worst of all, there are hardly any salad dressings, and the ones that exist don’t taste very good. The pasta, omelette and stir fry station are sorely missed along with the panini grill. There are no tortillas to make wraps, and today there was the exact same food available for lunch and dinner.
I do appreciate Sodexo’s attempt to vary the pizza with garlic bread, pita pizza, pizza bagels and flatbread pizzas, yet none of these have the nice doughy crust topped with a thick layer of gooey cheese I remember. Aramark always garnished their pizza with different toppings, and while it was always the same dough, the pizza was normally quite satisfying—although I must say, that is a matter of personal preference.
While the fresh fruit is delicious, the desserts on the kosher side of Sherman have been particularly disappointing. Often the cabinet is empty, and when it does have something in it, it has average store-bought cookies I have eaten numerous times in the past. The soft serve ice cream is delicious and refreshing, and they rotate the flavors. Last week there was chocolate and mango followed by tangerine and banana this week.
The C-Store has some new decorations, but looks quite similar besides a few key changes. For one, there is a much wider variety of ice cream from which to choose; however, there are fewer kosher and even non-kosher packaged meals available. Also, there is a large section of fresh produce, and while the range of small fruit options are wonderful, not many students in dorm rooms have the resources or kitchen tools to cut up a large watermelon. Most students don’t want to take the time to wash, chop and cook fresh vegetables when they can find the equivalent in Usdan or Sherman with much less effort.
There are a several other dining options on campus now, including the Starbucks that overtook Eco Grounds, Guy Fieri on Campus instead of the Stein (which will open next semester), the new Dunkin’ Donuts to replace the V-Store and a promised, updated Einstein’s.
I am not a huge coffee drinker, but bringing franchise restaurants to Brandeis in itself is great for its appeal to prospective students and also shows the current students that the staff cares about our dining desires as well as keeping up-to-date with modern trends. However, I do not think we need a Dunkin’ Donuts, Einstein’s and Starbucks that all sell more or less the same products with a different brand name. More variety (and more kosher options) would bring more flavors to the table rather than just coffee, donuts and bagels. We also need places that stay open late as the C-Store has such limited hours and does not even stay open past midnight when late-night study sessions warrant a snack.
Overall, I think the food tastes the same, but there is less variety. Indeed, Sodexo is just getting off the ground, and we need to give them a little time to settle into a new environment. While many students complain Sodexo does not care about what we have to say, I think we should give them a month or so before we call for action. Perhaps they have some surprises up their sleeves.