Northwestern cafeteria

Feature Writer

Nothing ruins my day like finding something gross in my food. I’m not particularly a germaphobe, but I can 100 percent guarantee that finding a gnat in my salad was enough to make me want to run from Coronado Cafeteria, screaming all the way. (I did not run and scream, but my appetite definitely fled).

Unfortunately, this was not my first unpleasant experience in the cafeteria. This summer, while working for a summer camp on the Northwestern campus, a camper found a cockroach in his pizza. Yes, folks, the cafeteria has ruined pizza for me. I’ve found moldy bread, almost drank sour milk and  dispensed orange juice that was not orange, but rather, brown.

Our generation has a reputation for being spoiled, whiney and entitled. Because of this, my following argument may be entirely discredited because of these preconceived notions. However, the following article is not merely an unsubstantial complaining session, but rather a supported argument for one solitary, unanimous viewpoint for Northwestern students: The cafeteria sucks.

Let me clarify … The cafeteria is not solely disliked because of a lack of variety or because the food is typically quite bland. With many reports of students getting sick because of the food, the level of sanitation for the cafeteria has come into question. In an anonymous survey of students who typically eat in Coronado Café, 35 percent reported that they have become ill after eating in the cafeteria. 25 percent of the students surveyed reported that they have seen under-cooked meat in the cafeteria, likely a cause of the common reports of food poisoning.

So how do Northwestern students feel about Coronado Café? On a scale of one to 10, the average rating was a 4.6 satisfaction level. 35 percent of the students rated it a three or lower. Regarding how sanitary students found the cafeteria, it was rated a 6.2 on the same scale of one to 10. Though a percentage of students did not report a specific unpleasant experience in the cafeteria, several pointed out that the dishes are often unclean, there has been hair found in food and the food will either be significantly under or overcooked. One unfortunate student even reported finding a cricket in their milk.

“The food in the cafeteria is not only consistently bad, it is dangerous,” an anonymous Northwestern student said. “It is served at a range of temperature in which bacteria thrives. In addition to this, I have personally witnessed Chartwell employees engaged in unsanitary food handling practices such as touching food with their bare hands and picking up food from the counter and putting it back in the serving dish. I have repeatedly suffered food poisoning after eating in the cafeteria … During the fall semester, I was hospitalized for food poisoning as a result of eating at the cafeteria. I have reported this to both the cafeteria staff and the administration.”

Ted Robinson, director of dining, says he wants students to come speak with him if they believe they have become ill because of cafeteria food. He said he wants to ensure the health of students on campus. Robinson said that Chartwells, the dining company utilized on campus, requires strict safety and health guidelines, guidelines he says are strictly adhered to by the cafeteria workers.

Though the lack of sanitary measures is the most disturbing aspect of the cafeteria, it is far from the only complaint. 67.5 percent of the surveyed students reported that they leave the cafeteria hungry on occasion; others specified that this is a regular occurrence. The students also wish for a wider variety of foods, rather than the same repetitive menu. Several students recommended that there be more measures to include healthier foods.

Amongst the six men’s and seven women’s athletic teams, Northwestern is home to over 360 athletes. According to Fitness Magazine, the recommended nutritional input for active athletes is a diet rich in whole grains, lean protein and a variety of fruits and veggies. It recommends foods rich in antioxidants and iron. This diet cannot be promised by the lack of variety at Coronado Cafeteria.

So why do students continue to utilize the cafeteria despite the general dislike of the facilities? All students who live on campus are required to have a meal plan, whether that is for 10, 15 or 19 meals per week. Of the students surveyed, 92.5 percent say they do not eat there by choice, but merely because of the required meal plan. 278 students pay $2500 a year for 10 meals a week; 179 pay $2700 a year for 15 meals a week; 84 pay $2830 a year for 19 meals a week.  While students who receive 19 meals/week pay only $4.65/meal, students who are on the 15 meal plan pay $5.63/ meal and students on the 10 meal plan pay $7.81/meal. This may not appear to be a substantial amount of money per each meal, but many students pay $7.81 for dinner and may result in eating a bowl of cereal because there is no fresh food. Those are some pricey Cheerios.

Granted, the meals also can be applied for use at the Student Center; however, this is only available for students at breakfast and lunch.

An anonymous senior at Northwestern said, “the cafeteria is one of the worst eating establishments I have ever had the misfortune of eating at. The pasta looks, at times, weeks old. I’ve found flies, moths and mold in food. If I didn’t have to get a meal plan, I wouldn’t.”

So how does Northwestern’s meal plan compare to universities of comparable size and enrollment?

Students at Northeastern Oklahoma State University can pay for 10 meals/week and $350 of “flex points” for each semester, paying a total of $3580. Though the sum is more than the plan offered at Northwestern, the student’s $700 yearly for use on snacks, fast food restaurants, coffee, etc. makes their plan only $380 more than Northwestern’s offer. The university also offers a Market Café, Food Court, Chick-Fil-A, SubConnection, Clubhouse Grill, and a coffeehouse.

Southwestern Oklahoma State University students can get a standard yearly meal plan of 10 meals/week for $2700, $200 more than a Northwestern student pays. However, that student also has access to a food court with an Italian Café, a grill, a Mexican Cantina, a chicken strip joint and a bakery. Students can also use a “flex point” plan on an on-campus coffeehouse and convenience store. Their cafeteria also offers hot entrees, an international food line, Panini grill, fast food line, baked potato bar and waffle station.

Considering the current state of food services at Northwestern, it is apparent that measures need to be taken to further efforts to make the cafeteria more sanitary. A priority of Northwestern should be to preserve the health of its students.

There are ways that students can help to better the cafeteria as well, Robinson said. A food committee meets periodically throughout the year and is available to all Northwestern students. You don’t have to wait until a committee meeting to voice your opinion, however, as Robinson emphasized that his door is open to students who would like to speak with him.

“Waste is a big problem too,” Robinson said. “With the amount of food that students waste, that could be put into improvements.”

What are your thoughts on how the cafeteria can improve? Let Northwestern News know your thoughts!