Dining Services’ lack of diverse options needs updating

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College.

The Ramapo College Student Government Association (SGA) met on Wednesday, Nov. 24, to discuss how the current Dining Services is not meeting the needs of the community. From cultural differences to health issues, a variety of dietary restrictions are unacknowledged by the current options.

SGA Secretary of Diversity and Inclusion Cristina Navarette Carpizo sees room for improvement. “What has been brought up in my committee is that certain religions have limited options,” she said. Various denominations of Hinduism place restrictions on foods such as beef, seeds, onions and garlic. Some Jewish students struggle to find kosher options that are prepared in accordance to Jewish dietary regulations.

“Basically at the end of the day they have to choose between pizza, pasta, salad and it minimizes them to eat like a bunny,” she said. She relates to their distress. “At first, I was practicing vegetarianism because my stepfather is Hindu… but now that I’m here I feel like I cannot afford to be vegetarian because there’s not enough options for me to eat healthy.”

The main problem is that Dining Services is under-resourced. For example, Rutgers University can afford a separate dining hall for kosher food to avoid cross contamination. Jeffrey Dannhardt, the general manager of Dining Services, explained how Ramapo’s facilities are too undersized to accommodate separately storing and preparing kosher products.

Junior Moss Killion discussed how his diverticulitis makes finding acceptable options difficult. Certain foods get caught in pockets of his digestive tract, risking tears and infections in his intestinal walls. When there are few options, he must contemplate eating things that will hurt him. “It’s either this or don’t eat,” he said.

The menu itself is shaped by an editable template provided by the food services company Sodexo. “We’ve got to follow standardized recipes, make sure that we have the nutritional information for it out there and advertise it correctly,” Dannhardt said.

The solutions are complex. Navarette Carpizo identified expanding the options as a priority. “There’s other services that Dining Services does offer like international chef… right now they need to see what they can get approved by vendors in order for us to have a more diversified menu.”

One cost-effective change is transitioning to a plant-based menu. Navarette Carpizo described how many vegetarian and vegan options are more affordable than beef without sacrificing nutritional value.

This option isn’t for everyone. “A lot of the things that substitute protein or vitamins that meat provides you are made of things that I just physically can’t digest,” Killion said. “There’s no true solution until it’s something more well-rounded.”

The Ramapo community can help. The SGA Diversity and Inclusion Committee is collaborating with the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance to collect recipes that can expand the menu. Answering surveys from Dining Services with specific feedback is priceless.

Angela Pegarella, the marketing specialist for Dining Services, will be open to feedback during Spill the Tea from Dec. 7-10. “It’s the time for students to get together with me specifically one-on-one so that it’s less intimidating,” she said. “That will be set up like office hours, so students will be able to book a session through an online website and then we will be meeting in the Atrium.” A selection of hot beverages will be offered.

Students with pressing needs shouldn’t wait. Dining Services has a dietician visit the campus monthly to help people navigate the system better. Dannhardt emphasized that the office, located in front of the Birch Tree Inn, has an open door policy. “We have everything to gain by keeping the student population happy.”

“Representation matters,” Navarette Carpizo summarized. “By not having those options… it’s like ‘Oh yeah, I live here, this is my dorm, but my home is back there.’ So instead we should try to make students feel they’re at home here.”