It’s true that typical students complain about the food in their university cafeterias. In reality, schools try their best to accommodate all diets, which is not always a simple task.
Jeff Gourley is the executive chef and director of food services at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has been at FDU for 20 years. Gourley said that the Gourmet Dining company tries to accommodate the needs of each university, based on what the students want. Students with special dietary needs can actually suggest what food they want in the cafeteria.
“The challenge is always trying to keep things fresh and new,” Gourley said. He acknowledged the fact that students are dependent on the cafeteria for all their meals and that it could get boring if the food they are served is always the same. “You wouldn’t go to the same restaurant every day,” he said.
The food services at FDU try to accommodate students with special diets. One group that the school tries to accommodate are those who do not eat meat, known as vegetarians and pescatarians.
Margaly Monelus, a sophomore acting major with a concentration in musical theater, happens to be a pescatarian. “This means that I don’t eat meat, like chicken or pork,” she explained, “but I eat seafood.”
Anneliese Aberg-Scalzo, a sophomore majoring in world literature and psychology, and Sarah Bennett, a sophomore in the elementary education QUEST program and majoring in world literature, are both vegetarians.
Scalzo eats dairy but not fish or meat. Bennett, on the other hand, described herself as a “picky eater,” in addition to being a vegetarian.
Gourley understands that students whose diets do not contain meat do not always “want to eat a salad every day.” “They want to have the different varieties,” he explained.
There is a section of the dining hall that should appeal to those who do not eat meat, called “Very Veggie.” Gourley said some options at this station are sandwiches, gluten-free pastas, whole-grain pastas and organic tofus. He also noted that vegetarians can use the Wok Station to make whatever they want with the ingredients in the cafeteria.
Bennett raised the concern that this station is “usually not stocked well” and “when it is, the only option is usually tofu, which is not something all vegetarians and vegans eat.”
“You can also order omelets without meat,” Aberg-Scalzo said, explaining some of the other options that the dining hall offers for vegetarians. “They also do some steamed vegetables sometimes and occasionally the soups are meatless, but not very often.”
Though the “Very Veggie” section exists, most of the dinner entrees contain meat, according to the Gourmet Dining online sample menu. On the sample menu there are three clear main entree options for meat-eaters.
“We started doing vegetarian entrees daily and it was an item that wasn’t moving a lot,” Gourley said as he explained the lack of non-meat entrees. He said that the cafeteria can make non-meat entrees on a more of an “individual basis.” “If a vegetarian wants something and they don’t see anything in the cafeteria, we try to prepare that,” he said.
All three women agreed that the cafeteria provides accommodations for their diets, but does not always provide enough variety for them. Bennett lives in Park Ave. this year and does not depend on on going to the cafeteria for meals. “I truly do not think there is enough variety,” she said of her experiences eating at the dining hall. “Last year I would eat the same exact salad for lunch and dinner on most days, depending on the limited variety of hot food options.”
Bennett said that it is easier to meet her needs now that she has her own kitchen. “But last year I did not feel that my dietary needs were sufficiently met,” she admitted. “And, I’m sure vegetarians that do not live in Park Ave. have this problem still.”
Aberg-Scalzo has been a vegetarian for about six years now. She says she has learned how to make the most of difficult eating situations, but she raised some concern for people who have stricter diets, like veganism.
“I feel [that] if the caf had more non-meat proteins, it would be beneficial,” she explained. She said that other sources of protein for vegetarians, like quinoa, “would shake up the variety and offer more nutritional balance” for those who don’t eat meat.
Gourley said students have the ability to suggest items they want to see offered at the cafeteria.
“I want to find out what they want,” he said, stressing the importance of communication between himself and the students. He said that if he doesn’t have feedback from the students “it’s impossible” to know what they really want.
Every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. Gourley and the Auxiliary Services Committee (ASC-US) stand in front of the cafeteria to take suggestions from students about what they want.
“It’s just those little things that if we can accommodate it right away, it makes a big difference,” Gourley explained. “Because if one person is probably thinking, ‘hey I’d like this,’ there’s probably 20-30 more” that are too.
Gourley explained that suggestions from students during an ASC-US session led to the new griddle at the omelet station.
The options offered for students with special dietary needs have the ability of expanding in the future, if, as Gourley said, there is feedback from the students. “If I can do it, I’ll do it,” he said.
In addition to making suggestions, Gourley explained that a student with allergies or a special diet needs is able to make arrangements with him and talk to the nutritionist in the beginning of the semester. “So, we can customize things according to what they want,” he said.
Gourley said that other food establishments on campus, such as Snax and Leafs & Grains, also accommodate special diets.
The grab-and-go case at Leafs and Grains will occasionally feature gluten-free and vegetarian sandwiches.
With the new renovations at Snax, Gourley said that it now offers options such as grilled vegetable pizzas and sandwiches.
Bennett, Monelus and Aberg-Scalzo said that they like the options offered at the other food services, such as Leafs & Grains and Snax, over the options offered at the caf.
“They’re healthier while also being more delicious,” Monelus said, “and they’re easily adaptable so I can have more food options than just salad or French fries.”
“My door is always open,” Gourley said. He is genuinely happy and willing to help students who are not satisfied with the food offered.
He said, “Let us know what you like. Let us know what you don’t like. Let us know what you’d like to see. What else can we expand on?”
Students, especially those with special diets, have the power to get the food options they want in their FDU cafeteria.
All they have to do is ask.