Just about every Southwestern student seems to have an opinion on the Commons food– and many are unfavorable. Most of us went through orientation week as freshmen with promising food from the Commons, only to see a noticeable difference once the school year officially began. It was soon evident that it was all for show and that the cafeteria food isn’t always as appealing as it was at the beginning.
Sure, the food is edible 99% of the time and three meals a day is nothing to complain about. But if you’ve ever likened the Commons to prison food, you just might be onto something.
On November 10, FJA president Antonia Renfroe (@thatvegann) tweeted several screenshots of a Google doc consisting of a very long bulleted list detailing facts, news stories, and controversies surrounding Sodexo: Quality of Life Services, the parent company to its subsidiaries Food Services and Justice Services.
Sodexo Justice Services fully operates five private, for-profit prisons in the UK according to the company’s website. One link in the document leads to a story called “Sodexo Faces Health Code Challenges on College Campuses” by Marist College about students raising concerns about Sodexo food at universities around the country.
Other issues include allegations of prisoner abuse and neglect, human rights violations, mistreatment of workers, and unsatisfactory food quality. It only takes a simple Google search for “Sodexo controversy” to access dozens of sources reporting on the company’s mismanagement.
Other students and organizations on Twitter began to share this information by posting a myriad of anti-Sodexo memes using the hashtag #Nodexo. Three of the Southwestern student-run accounts include SU Food Justice Association, SLAC, and the anonymous, nebulous Negaphone. A meme account at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana also joined in on the criticism of Sodexo.
Centenary students plan to air their grievances by meeting with the school’s provost in the coming weeks. Sodexo serves many universities nationwide, and it turns out that Southwestern students aren’t the only ones dissatisfied by the food and appalled by its scandals.
One common complaint I’ve heard is that the Commons does a poor job of accommodating students with dietary restrictions. While the menu does rotate through a variety of dishes, it does not have enough options to serve vegan and vegetarian students in a healthy way.
Usually the only vegan options are quinoa and the salad bar day after day, and when I tried to be vegetarian on a meal plan, I ended up eating copious amounts of cheese pizza. Many students are also disgruntled at the fact that meal plans are required for 2 years, costing thousands of dollars that usually adds to the burden of student loan debt.
If you do the math you will find that one meal costs $14-15 on a meal plan while it costs about $9 to get in without one. That’s the price of a pretty decent restaurant meal. So where is all that extra money going, if not towards restaurant-quality food? Certainly not to the employees’ paychecks.
I would like to note that I do not disparage the Commons workers in any way; I want to draw attention to Sodexo’s problems as a corporation. The Southwestern community greatly appreciates our food service workers like Miss Ella in the Commons or Miss Traycee in the Cove. While the students value campus workers, it is evident that Sodexo does not.
So what can we do about it? Students at other schools with United Students Against Sweatshops chapters (of which SLAC is a part) have made efforts to renegotiate their schools’ contracts with Sodexo to compensate the workers more fairly, with some victories.
The University of North Texas goes above and beyond by not using a third-party food provider at all. Instead, they cook fresh food in-house and are well-known for the quality of their cafeterias, including 2 vegan cafes. This could be a good model for Southwestern. If SU could use fresh, local food prepared on campus with more options, it could someday bring in a more diverse range of students attracted by the prospect of delicious healthy food for everyone.
Do you have an opinion on Sodexo? Join the conversation by tweeting your thoughts using #Nodexo. Your peers will likely agree!
photos by Kari Darr