Opinions vary inside campus dining halls

By Daily Egyptian staff

While some students eat there every day, many are still uncertain of what goes on behind the doors of the campus dining halls. Whether it is food quality, employee life or logistics, the university dining halls have remained a mystery.

More than 3,600 university students have traditional dining plans and consistently eat on campus. Trueblood, Lentz and University hall consist of 317 workers, 212 of whom are students.

Associate Director of University Housing Peggy Connors, has been employed by the university for 23 years, said most of the feedback she receives from workers and students about the food and management at the dining halls is positive.

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“I think we’ve gotten a lot of positive comments about how we’re changing, since every year we introduce something new and different,” she said. “Like next year you know we’re going to have late night on West campus.”

Connors said students are heading from west to east campus late at night since Lentz closes at 7 p.m. Beginning in fall of 2014, Lentz will be open later so students will not have to travel across campus to have dinner. Closing time for Lentz’s next year is still up for debate.

Connors said when comparing Trueblood and Lentz, the menus are fairly similar, however Trueblood serves more students.

“We really have about the same menu… if you look at the menus almost every single thing is on every menu,” she said. “Out of those 3,600 (who have traditional dining plans) we have about 1,200 that live on west campus.”

Connors said students could suggest changes to the halls, which will be seen and considered for discussion. This is a way students can voice their opinions and make a change in the way the university functions, to keep all of campus equal.

“We try to do it equally on each side, a lot of universities have one dining hall that is late night but because ours are farther away from each other we seem to mirror things on both sides of campus,” she said.

Connors she personally eats at the dining halls every single day at least once, and her favorite treat is the apple crisp, which is grown locally.

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Connors said new foods can be added to the halls at anytime throughout the year, but the menu mainly grows over summer during product testing.

“For instance, last spring we didn’t have a vegan item each meal, because it just wasn’t being taken by students,” she said. “But we got some students that really wanted it back, so we implemented it again this year and we got all new vegan items.”

Tom Wardynski, a senior studying psychology and two-year Trueblood worker said he personally does not enjoy the dining hall food. He does not think it could give someone a foodborne illness, but said it may make one need to use the restroom more often.

“I swear they put laxatives or something in the food, ‘cause it is just terrible on the insides. I don’t know it just sucks,” he said. “It’s just like some days you’ll go there and it’ll be pretty decent and other days you’ll go there and be like, ‘oh my god I need to go hit the bathroom up real quick.’”

Connors said this accusation is false, and said there is absolutely no way there are any laxatives in the dining hall food.

“I have other colleagues in the rest of the United States, you know, in dining halls at colleges, and it’s just a common myth,” she said.

Chef Jim Gilmore, who has been working at Lentz for five years, said he thinks laxatives in the dining halls is a good conspiracy theory, but it will never happen.

“If you knew some of our cooks, if they ever figured, if I found out or if (Peggy) found out we’d blow a gasket,” he said. “It’s all hype, don’t believe the hype.”

Connors said with food poisoning, it would be an obvious outbreak, as there would be hundreds of students getting it.

Gilmore said all food products have labels on them, stating what it is and when the dining hall received it, and they catch late dates on labels 99 percent of the time. The dining halls receive shipments of between $15,000 and $18,000 worth of food each Monday and Thursday.

Gilmore said if the dining halls are short any products, they are able to get a truck five days a week, because Lake Side Express’s delivery is on Tuesday.

The freezing areas all have thermometers that are carefully watched. If the temperatures drop, it alerts a system that informs the chef immediately, he said.

Aside from the food, several employees have expressed their perspectives about everyday life at the dining halls.

Justin Ayers, a sophomore studying radio television, has worked at Lentz dining hall since last August, said he came across several issues while employed at the dining halls.

Ayers said he usually works as a monitor, or the person who swipes students in, but it can vary from day to day. While Ayers enjoys coming to work, he said he does not get the respect he expects as a grown man from the management.

“When they do talk to you it feels like you’re not being talked to as a person who is working there,” he said. “It feels like you’re being talked to as a fifteen year old kid who’s just picked up a summer job. I feel welcomed to work there but as far as trying to engage conversation with (a) manager, you can’t really.”

Ayers said although he sometimes feels talked down to, everything within Lentz is clean and all the food is sanitary.

Wardynski said although most supplies in the dining halls are clean, he thinks the silverware is not always thoroughly washed. He said the silverware should be hand washed, as opposed to the machine they use.

“They don’t really wash it, they toss it in a bucket with all this, it’s a sanitizer but that doesn’t get chunks of food off of it and then they just send it through a power wash two times and that’s it,” he said.

Gilmore said the dishwasher is a brand name Hobart and all the soap and chemicals used in the dining halls are “green” with no gas used.

While some workers feel the dining halls are not up to par, others are satisfied with the establishment and understand the rules.

Kevin Klimek, a sophomore studying radio television from Joliet, is a first semester worker at Trueblood and said student workers are not allowed to read or do homework at the front while swiping in students because it would look unprofessional.

“If you’re in a restaurant, you don’t want to seem like you’re doing something else. You want to make the customer service twenty-four seven,” Klimek said. “I mean you’re getting paid for a job. Might as well work it.”

Prior to Trueblood, Klimek has worked at Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s, and says the dining halls on campus are comparable to the big-name food industry.

“I’ve been working the food industry since I was 16, so it’s been four years now, and all of them are the same,” he said. “If you go to every food industry they’re all going to be the same with minor differences, but other than that it feels like I’m working at a McDonalds or even some big five-star restaurant.”

The Jackson County Health Department comes to the university dining halls twice a semester. They received a 98 out of 100 grade on the most recent inspection.

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