Birch Tree Inn cooks up disappointment

For students who have lived on campus in Bischoff, Mackin, The Overlook or Laurel, Ramapo’s Birch Tree Inn dining hall has been the only place to turn to for meals aside from cheap microwavable food or going out to eat. I personally have lived in Mackin and Laurel, and I have had to eat at the dining hall roughly every day for at least one meal, if not all of them depending on if I had the time to get groceries.

Hundreds of students visit Birch Tree Inn each day. Photo courtesy of @RamapoCollegeNJ, Twitter

So far, I’ve noticed that Birch has been kicking it up a step with menu variation. During lunch, they have had more themes recently like a fry bar or some amazing plant-based alternative meals. One lunch in particular really stuck out to me. They were serving gumbo and it was one of the best things I have tried at Birch.

However, there is still a concern about the quality of the food we are consuming. There have been issues with Birch that I have personally noticed throughout my time here revolving around bad quality food, including undercooked and overcooked foods.

There have been several instances where I have grabbed some chicken for dinner only to find it pink and rubbery in the middle. It can get disheartening for people like me who cannot turn to any alternatives for food due to a lack of finances.

During a limited survey conducted by The Ramapo News, seven out of 11 people stated that they would rather find an alternative place to get food than Birch. A common theme in their answers was that, while they have spiced it up lately during lunch and dinner, they pretty much only offer the same meals: pasta, cheeseburgers and fries, pizza and the deli area. It can get sickening, especially for seniors who have had to eat the same meals for years.

When I asked people if they have ever found anything wrong with their food, multiple people shared the same concerns. They talked about undercooked chicken, cross contamination at the sandwich bar between trays, old fruit at the fruit station near the entrance, aphids in the lettuce and much more.

If the dining hall is offering meals that people don’t feel comfortable eating or food that makes them sick, they have to turn to unhealthy alternatives. There have been many nights where I have eaten ramen or Spaghetti-o’s for dinner. What’s worse is that most of the time those types of meals aren’t filling, so people are eating doubled proportions. The people who luck out in all of this are those who live in the Village and College Park Apartments, as they have a kitchen in their dorm.

There have been several instances where I have grabbed some chicken for dinner only to find it pink and rubbery in the middle.

I understand that we have a kitchen in the Laurel lounge, however it is so closed off on the first floor that people typically turn away from it as an alternative. I used the kitchen once and found the idea of having to give a specific time to cook a meal concerning. It is hard to gauge how long a meal can take, so cooking on a time limit can be stressful.

While interviewing a couple of students, I had asked how they thought Birch could be improved and they mentioned identical ideas. One of those students, Nathaniel Kong, stated, “The overall dining experience isn’t bad, it’s just the food itself (which still says a lot). I guess a big change I’d like to see would be sourcing better, possibly fresher ingredients.”

Part of me wonders how difficult this could be, but I thought about how our school is situated near multiple farms. I understand Birch gets its food from Sodexo, but I was curious if there would be a way for Ramapo to partner with these farms instead. This would provide students with fresher options while supporting local businesses.

Overall, I don’t want to sound like a downer when it comes to Birch. I still eat there multiple times a day during the week as well as many other students. The diversity of options that have been offered lately has been a huge step up. I’d just like to see an increase in the food’s quality itself, so I can have a meal without feeling uncomfortable.

Featured photo courtesy of Peyton Bortner