Growing Pains at The Table: Students Air Grievances About New Food Service Provider

Growing Pains at The Table: Students Air Grievances About New Food Service Provider

On Thursday September 19th, The University of Redlands’ new food service provider, Harvest Table, held an open panel where students were able to have their developing concerns about the new services addressed. The panel consisted of Dean of Student Affairs, Donna Eddleman, Harvest Table Manager, John Gula, and the ASUR President and Co-Director of Special Events, Jacob Miner.


In the three weeks since Harvest Table began serving the U of R, students have given their praises for the new meals being served at the university. Harvest Table has started serving more variety in terms of food types and cultures like the Poke bowls in the Plaza Café, and improving the recipes of classic items like pizza and pasta. However, there has also been a growing list of complaints, including commuter students without meal plans being unable to access The Table (formerly the Commons), inadequate and mislabeled vegan alternatives, and the convoluted system of meal swipes and debit dollars.


Students’ frustrations were further exacerbated by an email sent out by Eddleman that detailed a system for managing the long lines by offering random debit dollar prizes for students who are able to eat at The Table at certain times, deterring them from high traffic time periods. Many people were unhappy with the long lines during the lunch rush, as the portions at The Table are significantly smaller than those provided by Bon Appetit in previous years. Harvest Table’s “all-you-care-to-eat” system allows students to get in line for more if they are still hungry.


However, due to the long lines during the lunch rush, many students who have a short window to eat lunch are not able to wait in line twice for more food, so the smaller portions don’t give them enough to eat. Eddleman’s system was intended to entice students to eat lunch before 12:15 pm or after 12:45 pm with the chance to win $15 debit dollars via raffle. However, some students took this email as condescending.


“My issue with the email wasn’t that it was addressed as ‘Hey guys, this is a temporary fix, and we are working on a logistical, long-term fix’ […] We were greeted with, ‘well obviously the hours can’t be changed right now, so simply don’t eat,’” said senior Leigh Kilgus. 


Many students took this in a similar manner, like junior Elias Beck, who called the email “infantilizing.”


In response, Eddleman apologized for the way the email was taken by students, but wanted to emphasize that the decision was made as a result of student feedback. 


“The solution, which was [made from] a collective of feedback that I received from other students, was what was presented in the email. I will be the first to acknowledge that it is not perfect. The bottom line is, our class schedule creates what we are now experiencing in the dining hall […] What we needed, as an institution, was a short-term solution with an acknowledgement that we [also] need a long-term solution,” Eddleman said. 


However, “short-term” means that it will probably be in place for the rest of the year. Miner went on to explain: 


“We are very understanding that this isn’t a long-term solution, but any sort of thing we can do to help someone else out was my intention with supporting that email going out. I felt that if this is a short-term solution that maybe a few of us can try and do and help alleviate something for others—which is not a solution, just a short-term act. I thought it was an act of goodwill for our other classmates.”


Eddleman emphasized that if anyone has any ideas for solutions to this issue to please use the napkin board to write recommendations for Gula and his staff.


There have also been complaints about the lacking accommodations at The Table. Kilgus brought her activism on eating disorders to the room’s attention.


“Around 25% of our students probably suffer from eating disorders. A pretty common trigger among all eating disorders—though they do vary—is that when you’re living with a disorder, your mind is looking for an opportunity to tell you not to eat,” Kilgus said.


Along with this, Kilgus asked about the lackluster vegan options at The Table. There have been recurring issues with dessert options being labeled as vegan, yet still containing animal products like butter, as well as occasions where the tofu was cooked in fish oil. This leads to confusion as to who these options are for, as those who can eat the meat options will likely avoid vegan ones like tofu, and those who are vegan still can’t eat what’s supposed to be their option.


Students like Kilgus feel as though they can’t trust the only vegan options they have to eat anymore, since they are so often mislabeled, and attempting to digest food products the body is no longer used to often leads to the person becoming ill.


Another issue is the fact that The Table has become a closed-off space for commuter students without a meal plan. Many students do not want to pay to enter The Table just to be able to sit down with their friends. Some argued that the notion of having to pay to enter is a classist system that keeps out those who can’t afford to spend the required amount every day. Some students argued that due to the amount students pay to attend the U of R, they should be allowed access to every facility on campus equally.


Additionally, students have also been facing issues regarding the meal swipe and debit dollar system. Harvest Table’s new system of having a specific number of meal swipes every week and $250 debit dollars to last the semester has left many frustrated. Students feel they are simultaneously losing unused meal swipes at the end of every week, yet also running out of debit dollars at an alarming rate. 


Because of the inflated prices of snacks in the Plaza Market, as well as the already expensive drinks at the new Bulldog Java & Juice Café (formerly the Bulldog Café), it is possible to run out of debit dollars before getting a third of the way through the semester just by getting your daily coffee and chips.


At the moment, the only way to use meal swipes is either to enter The Table at designated meal times, or exchange your swipes at either the Plaza Market or the Bulldog Java & Juice. Debit dollars are typically used any time you can’t use meal swipes, so students whose schedules don’t allow them to eat at the allotted times, or who enjoy a late night study snack, are much more likely to run out of debit dollars and lose meal swipes at the end of each week. Many feel it’s a lose-lose situation.


“It’s really upsetting that they’re only giving us $250 in every meal plan, and on top of that taking away our meals that we’re not eating per week that we’ve paid for […] There are so many ways that would make more sense and you guys just did it in a way to steal more money that the University is already taking. Because we all know that Redlands takes money in situations that they don’t need to, and they screw us over consistently, and Harvest Table is 100% one of them,” contests senior Destiny Ng.


One proposed solution for both the issues regarding meal swipes and crowd levels is that soon University Club will be closing for renovations. In its place will be The Den, which will accept meal swipes and not require payment to enter. According to Gula, this new venue will be open “all day, seven days a week” for students to dine and socialize in. Eddleman hopes that it will give students more alternate places to use their meal swipes, shrink the crowds at The Table during the lunch rush, and also provide a place for commuter students to be able to dine with their friends.


In response to the discontent of students like Ng, Eddleman emphasized that the price of meal plans is formulated to account for a certain amount of missed meals. According to Eddleman, the reason the price is what it is, and why proportionately we pay about $6 per meal swipe and not the $13.50 listed, is because of the assumption of missed meals.


If students wanted to have their meal swipes carry over each week, the meal plan would be more expensive overall. The amount of swipes and debit dollars are all negotiated through contracts with the school at the beginning of the year, thus there is not much room for change until next year. 


Eddleman stressed that all decisions were made after surveying students and the decisions were based on their answers. She emphasized that their decisions were not made completely uninformed. These issues are a work in progress and they want to find solutions, but it will take time to figure it out. Overall, the goal is to be transparent in their communications.

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Photograph contributed by Jono Ruhlman.

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