Sodexo forum draws hundreds

After grilling food service representatives on the costs of meals plans and the lack of vegetarian meals, some students were left hungry for more answers.

Held in the Alumni Memorial Ballroom, “An Evening with Sodexo” was an open forum held last night created by Marquette, Sodexo, Residence Hall Association and Marquette Student Government allowing students to pose their dining related questions to the powers-that-be.

The board was made up of both Marquette and Sodexo, corporate and local, representatives including: General Manager of Dining Services Dan Auger, Executive Director of the AMU and Auxiliary Services Todd Vicker, Vice President of Administration Art Scheuber and Associate Dean of Administration Rick Arcuri.

Hundreds of students showed up to the two-hour event to voice concerns ranging from the lack of vegan and vegetarian options to the price of a meal plan and the quality of the food.

“I was really interested to see their strategy,” said Aurora Prehn, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. “I came because I thought it was important to support other students to help bring about change.”

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Following a brief 20-minute presentation in which Sodexo outlined their plans for sustainability and incorporating local foods, as well as introducing new renovations to the Straz Tower and Mashuda dining halls, the floor was opened to students.

Of particular concern to students was the price of a meal plan compared to the actual price of the meal and the price discrepancy that exists. Numerous students voiced their concerns that they are not getting enough out of their meals, considering what they paid.

One student cited her experience of being forced to use a regular swipe for one bowl of cereal before class.

“Right now that’s not a question we can answer,” Arcuri said in response to a question on how money from meal plans is distributed. “There’s lots of information and something that’s very difficult to explain.”

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Former MUSG President Henry Thomas, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said that meal plan costs need to be restructured to make costs more reflective of what students are paying for a typical meal.

Vegan and vegetarian options, as well as nutritional value, were also the subject of many pointed questions.

Students lamented that often the only vegetarian entrée available was a grilled cheese sandwich, or a different meal that was high in sodium or carbohydrates.

Auger said providing vegan and vegetarian options is something the university and Sodexo are working hard on. However, he admitted, “We could do better,” in regards to providing those options, as well as integrating more local foods into the menus.

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Other students expressed their concerns with Sodexo as a company, referring to alleged pressure forced upon employees not to unionize and a lack of ethics in dealing with unions and other labor groups. One student cited the 16 cases brought against the company in the last eight months.

“Sodexo is in the middle of a smear campaign against us and the entire food service industry,” said Nancy Judy, a Sodexo representative in her defense of Sodexo. “Facts are being misrepresented and we continue to cooperate to solve these disputes.”

Overall, students said they were very pleased with the opportunity to ask questions. Both students and panel agreed that cooperative dialogues are key in bringing about change in offering healthier options and resolving concerns over disputed meal plan costs.

“Our goal is to make as many people happy as we can,” Auger said. “Change comes about through student discussion.”

Student reaction to the forum was mostly positive.

“I hope change comes about,” said Caitlin Patrick, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. “It will take an effort from both sides, but a discussion like this was very encouraging.”

However, not every student felt that the forum panelists provided enough information.

“Lots of good questions, not as many good answers,” said Brian Suerth, a senior in the College of Communication. “Still, I’m very proud of the students and our ability to take action.”

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