At long last, Barnard’s Student Government Association’s meeting centered on a topic relevant to all students: food. Last night, our resolute representatives heard from the Food Advisory Board; the ad hoc Committee on Food Insecurity; Simone Harper-Register, Regional Aramark Manager; Lauren Scocozza, Director of Dining Services; and Gail Beltrone, Vice President for Campus Services. Questions were asked, and some were even answered. Sound enticing? Read on.
Sarah Broniscer, SGA Rep for Food and Dining Services and head of both the Food Advisory Board (FAB) and the ad hoc committee on food insecurity (AHCFI? let’s go with that), was joined by members of both of these groups to discuss what they’re working on. Gabrielle Finestone, BC’21, explained that a lot of the work done involves connecting administrative offices with students and gathering feedback. Yeliz Sezgin, BC’21, who is a member of the AHCFI as well as the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership’s (FLiP) committee on food insecurity explained that part of what AHCFI had to do was define what food insecurity looks like on Barnard’s campus. They settled on “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” She noted that this problem is compounded on Barnard’s campus, as many students are unfamiliar with how to manage eating in New York City and are unaware of what resources are available for them.
AHCFI also worked to gather data about how many Barnard students are affected by food insecurity. After meetings with Financial Aid, CU food bank, FLiP, Aramark, Res Life, and Student Employment (now Beyond Barnard), they discovered that getting an actual number is near impossible, because it involves confidential information unavailable to students. They estimated, though, that about 10% of Barnard students experience food insecurity of some kind at some point during the school year.
The committee was also tasked with suggesting meal plan options that work better for more students. Their suggestions centered on more meal plan flexibility, with asks including the ability to purchase points in smaller increments, increasing the default upperclass meal plan to one meal a day, which is larger than it is currently, so students who want fewer meals would be choosing that option purposely. Additionally, they hope to change the required quad upperclass mean plan to include more points and fewer swipes. Crucially, the committee also reccommended that students be able to share their already purchased meal swipes freely, getting rid of the small “guest swipe” limit.
Harper-Register, Scocozza, and Beltrone then had a chance to address these questions and discuss what their working on for Barnard dining. Notably, Beltrone said that meal plans for next year are currently being finalized, and they do plan on changing the constitution of the quad upperclass plan. Harper-Register spoke about Aramark’s efforts to improve food safety, sanitation, and cleanliness, assuring SGA that “we take this very seriously.”
Scocozza spoke about recent options that have been introduced in the dining halls, including sushi in Diana, a pasta bar in Hewitt, avacado-toast Tuesdays, and “fun fridays.” She also said that dining is working to address a much-cited student concern of the dining halls running out of food before the end of mealtimes.
Beltrone tried to offer an explanation for why this discussion is as complex as it is. “This is a very complicated food plan,” she said, explaining that the exchange with Columbia dining halls “makes for a huge challenge for Aramark to figure out how many meals to make every day.” A suggestion that no one dares to suggest but is ridiculously obvious to me–let’s ditch Aramark and use the same service used “across the street,” which doesn’t seem to have any of these weird problems. Or is having a separate (and messy) meal plan somehow vital to Barnard’s identity as a women’s liberal arts college?
Beltrone also spoke about a change in the process of eating from Hewitt’s kosher meal plan this coming year. Hewitt is the only dining hall on a campus with a kitchen equipped to cook and serve kosher food. “We’re proud of that,” said Beltrone, saying that it allows Barnard to be more inclusive. Until a few years ago, the kosher meal plan used to be offered separately from normal meal plans, and cost more. “although kosher food tends to be more expensive, it didn’t make sense to offer kosher food at a higher price,” she explained, because it puts an extra burden on kosher-keeping students. Now, everybody pays for the same meal plan, and anyone who eats at Hewitt can eat from whatever side of the kitchen they want. This creates two problems. For one, the kosher food tends to run out when non-kosher-observant students eat it, creating a problem for hungry students. More problematically, Beltrone explained, is the issue of cross-contamination, where students may be taking food from both sides of Hewitt and accidentally rendering the kosher food un-kosher. Kosher rules are complex, she said, and students who are not familiar with the system in place could potentially make kosher food or even dishes unusable to kosher-keeping students.
Starting next year, in a measure to address this problem while maintaining inclusivity, students who want to eat the kosher food will have to sign up beforehand. This will not affect pricing, nor will there be any regulation about who will be allowed to sign up. Students can make whatever choice they want. This is big news. Let’s hope it works.
Finally, SGA members had a chance to ask questions. Surbhi Lohia, Junior Class VP, asked what might have been the most important question of the night: what’s with the guest swipe policy? Currently, the number of swipes students on Barnard meal plans are allowed to use for guests is extremely limited (the maximum, on the largest meal plan, required for first-years, is six). “If I have swipes,” Lohia asked, “why can’t I just use them however I want? I paid for these swipes anyway.” The gathered administrators didn’t really have an answer. The same for the issue of “double-swiping”: currently, even if students are using their allotted “guest swipes,” the computer system does not allow for swiping in more than one guest at a time. Barnard dining doesn’t seem to be aware of this problem and has no suggestions to solve this craziness– Scocozza commented that “I don’t even know if we can do that.” Beltrone responded vaguely that “at the end of the day, we have to recognize that this is a business.” As they have in the past, Barnard seems to be implying that allowing students to use the entirety of their meal plans however they wished to would cause financial problems for Aramark, which cannot sustain itself if it were to operate like, say, John Jay.
Why is Barnard like this? How do we fix it? Nobody seems to know. First-Year Class Sara Morales, at least, had something good to say about Hewitt, at least. “The pasta bar? Snaps, she’s good,” Morales enthused.
I found this amusing but probably nobody else did: SGA community guidelines, which to some seem absurdly lengthy and specific, were not read until a good fifteen minutes into the meeting. No one was reminded to “assume good intent, acknowledge impact, apologize, and move forward” until that point, but I think our reps nevertheless managed to conduct themselves appropriately like adult human beings. Go figure.
Reminder: SGA elections open Wednesday morning. Seniors can also vote–“there seems to be some confusion about that,” said SGA President Angela Beam. The confusion seems reasonable–seniors will not be here next year, so it might make sense that they not have a say in who gets to represent the student body in their leave.