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Students petition for meal plan exemptions and better food

Thomas Routson and Ben Cragoe want their concerns about the Caf – meal plan exemption and overall food quality – to be heard and acted on by administration. So do the 500 people who signed their Caf petition in the two days the pair walked around campus looking for signatures.

“As members of the Point Loma Nazarene University community, we, the below signatories, feel that Sodexo Cafeteria, during this Fall 2014 semester, is below average in all regards including but not limited to: food quality, cafeteria hours, food choice, food presentation, selection of ingredients, gluten-free availability, quality of ‘fresh fruit,’ quality of ‘fresh vegetables,’ amount of food available and safety regarding food served,” stated the petition titled “Signatories Indicating Current Cafeteria Dissatisfaction.

After email conversations with Sodexo’s previous manager in March which last through the summer, the change in Sodexo management and into the beginning of this year, Cragoe decided that this would be the most effective way to get what he wanted. Routson agreed and the sophomores quickly took charge. Routson created the document and the next day they were out in front of the Caf.

“Me and Ben felt like the simplest way for us to make a clear dialogue with Miles and Jeff Bolster and everyone up there was just, straight up, go outside and get signatures the old fashioned way just so we could gauge whether we were the only ones who felt this way or if there were others,” Routson said.

Cragoe said he doesn’t want an on-campus meal plan because he wastes money on food he doesn’t like. He thinks his money could be better spent elsewhere.

“It seems like they’re [administration] literally forcing us to eat here but we don’t have much of an option,” Cragoe said. “It’s like, if you guys ate here as much as we did, you would feel exactly the same way. I have to eat here at least one meal a day and the odds of the meal being good are pretty slim– you get lucky when the food is good here and that’s just very frustrating.”

Cindy Chappell, associate vice president for financial and auxiliary services, cautions against doing away with meal plans entirely.

“The more students who are on a meal plan, the more students these costs can be spread over and the lower the cost of a meal plan on a per-student basis,” Chappell said via email. “By requiring meal plans for all residential students, we are able to keep the costs as low as possible.”

Miles Rottman, the Caf’s general manager, said the money charged for dining services also includes water, electricity, heat, custodial services, building maintenance, staffing to provide these services, programs and food items to be prepared and served to students.

Routson wants the Caf to create alternative dining plan options, extend the weekend hours and provide more food options during the Caf’s lull hours. He said this is especially important for freshmen who don’t have other options.

“We’re not accusing anybody. We’re not trying to start a revolution, no boycott. There’s no angst, just people are frustrated and they [students] want to vent their opinions and they want change,” Routson said. “They want a voice and they feel like the Caf committee isn’t it…I’ve had so many people up to me today say ‘You’re doing a good job,’ or ‘thank you. They really feel frustrated and they feel like they have nobody to speak to and they just need a voice and we are that voice.”

Rottman said he is receptive to student feedback, but has not yet been contacted directly by the students in regards to their petition. However, the Caf is in the process of creating a new Caf coalition.

“I don’t know anything about a petition, but I would welcome the opportunity to meet with them – I’m very open and wanting to hear what the specific issues are so I can remedy them,” Rottman said via email. “We want students to love their dining options on campus!”

Until then, Rottman plans to provide the service he feels is on par with other similar universities and is favorable to students.

“We have added more options and will continue to work on meeting students needs as are appropriate,” Rottman said. “We use choice cuts of meat, grade ‘A’ vegetables and industry standard food items. Most of our menu is made completely from scratch.”

His passion for food is what he hopes to serve students now and in the future.

“I would like to introduce new items and options to educate folks on the variety of foods, flavors and choices that exist in the culinary world,” he said. “Food excites me and introducing new things to people is part of my satisfaction.”

One item the petition requests administration is the ease in which students can waive their meal plan. In order to do this, students must contact the Disability Resources Center and get approved by Nichole Hope-Moore, the director of both the Disability Resources Center and Tutorial Services. She replied via email that at this time, she was “unable to contribute to any stories for The Point.”

Alexandra Taylor, a senior writing major, tried to waive her meal plan because of an auto-immune issue, and was denied a waiver after her doctor said that the information provided about Taylor’s specific meal plan to disability resources was sufficient for PLNU to honor.

“It shouldn’t matter what my reasoning is,” Taylor said. “If I don’t want a meal plan, I shouldn’t have to have one. I’m 21 years old. I have a kitchen. And even so, I can’t believe that they wouldn’t comply with a doctor’s request.”

Taylor was provided options from Hope-Moore and Kimberly J. Bogan, associate dean for student success and wellness, but ultimately came away disappointed.

“I don’t feel really listened to,” she said. “There’s people that mean well, but are unnecessarily controlling of the situation and it’s tiring to deal with and it’s tiring to think about because I don’t need to be babied.”

While she’s assured that the new chef, Rafael Machado, is great from administration, she said she’s yet to hear anything from students. Because of how recent her request was, Taylor hasn’t tried the provisions designated for her by a PLNU dietician. She worries that the options will fall short of nutritious.

“For people trying to be conscious of their health, which I think is completely reasonable and should be supported, it’s just not cutting it. It’s really not.”

Even so, Taylor said students need to go to administration with specifics in order to solve anything.

“You can’t just whine,” she said. “Because if anything, that doesn’t help us. It just makes us look like all we do is complain.”

Despite this, she said that students’ starting a petition is enough to consider.

“History has shown that students are kept out of discussion and we don’t hear about things unless we find our way in to discussions,” Taylor said. “I think that would be a great opportunity for some collaborative effort to find a solution… There’s a lot of people feeling like I do and if that is going around, I think that should be seriously considered. I think administration should take a step back and really look at that then and respect the students’ wishes and try to come to some negotiation of some kind.”

Cragoe or Routson said they will be outside the Caf every day this week to collect signatures. Their goal is 1,500 before they will approach administrators for a solution.