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Food for thought

 

It started with a photo of a bloody piece of chicken posted on Facebook early Wednesday morning. 

But 989 likes, 200 shares and more than 230 angry comments after Zach Nelson posted the photo of an undercooked piece of chicken he received at the Smokehouse station at the Juniper Dining Hall about a month ago, alumni, students and parents have taken to social media to voice their complaints.

Nelson, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, said he was upset to discover that Juniper Dining Hall had replaced its name-brand cereal choices to generic options. 

So he decided to post the month-old photo around 2 a.m. with a lengthy message, publicly airing his grievances. 

“I am a conscious eater and like to control what nutrients and relatively how much I put on my plate,” he wrote. “…Let me start with the most recent noticeable ‘downgrade’ that has been made. There is no longer name brand cereal, thus suffering the lost [sic] of our delicious Frosted Flakes. I’ve noticed that on my repeated morning visits to the JP dining hall, in which I arrive shortly after breakfast, the same pot of “Mediterranean,” soup-like, curry flavored WHATEVER is amongst the first of the non-appetizing meals. Now, we proceed past the Green Zone – not always my choice, but I have enjoyed a few meals there. The American Station, always piled with tempting fries, sometimes offers shriveled up hotdogs and fowl [sic] tuna melts that have barely a helping, or even a taste, of tuna on top. It should be an embarrassment to serve such a dish.

“…. About a month or so ago, I asked for a peice [sic] of fried chicken from the highly glorified smokehouse inside the dining hall. After one bite I reached for another and well, you can see from the picture my view. I showed the guy behind the counter from where I got such a mockery peice [sic] of chicken, only to [sic] he replied with ‘well…’ and a shrug of the shoulders.”

Nelson posted the photo and went to sleep, but by the time he woke up, his inbox was filled with messages from other concerned students.

“It just kind of shocked me,” he said. “I was just excited to write something (with the photo on Facebook) to rant, but it ended up being way too long. I didn’t know how it came across until I woke up, but it was actually well said, and it reached out somewhere.”

In his Facebook post, Nelson said he feels the quality of “Argos,” or Fresh Food Company is higher than Juniper and “Andros,” also known as the Bulls Den Café

USF Dining responded to the photo on Facebook around 5 p.m., saying they would host an advisory meeting/food forum to address Juniper dining, titled “How is your Dining Experience?” on Monday at 5 p.m. in Juniper-Poplar classroom 1319. 

“We know you have been recently voicing your concerns and we thank you for the feedback,” the message said. “Hearing about your experiences, both good and bad, is instrumental for us to make USF’s dining program exceptional. Our number one goal is to provide the entire campus community with an exceptional experience, every time.”

Jenna Engel, marketing manager for Aramark dining services which manages USF Dining, said in an email statement to The Oracle that health inspections are completed quarterly at all locations on campus. 

“We are licensed, inspected and regulated according to the Chapter 509, Florida Statutes FS standard,” she said. 

Engel declined to comment further unless a list of prepared questions were provided via email.

Nelson said he noticed a change later the same day in the amount of management walking around observing staff in Juniper Dining. Many carried clipboards and walked around the seating and serving areas of the dining hall, a sight that could be seen even through the dinner shift.  

“I could tell from the minute I walked in the dining hall,” Nelson said. “I was like ‘Wow, hey. They’re actually doing something.’ And there were a bunch of people walking around that I had never seen before, sitting there and discussing business.”

Nelson said he spoke with the director of Champion’s Choice about his concerns, and plans to talk to the director of Juniper Dining as well.

Comments on the Facebook photo poured in as the day progressed and students such as Karisa Eustace, a freshman majoring in athletic training, said they wrote letters to Aramark expressing their frustrations with the dining hall. 

In her letter, Eustace said she was frustrated with being forced to purchase a meal plan, despite living in an apartment on-campus that is equipped with a full kitchen and refrigerator. She also said her religious dietary habits make it difficult to find foods in the dining hall that she is able to eat, and she has found the quality of the meat served in the dining halls to be “poor.” 

Eustace said she decided to write the letter after a trip to Bulls Den Café with her roommates.

“What put us over the edge was when we went to Bulls Den and brought back some chicken, and it was pink inside. It wasn’t even cooked,” Eustace said. 

Eustace said while the forum to discuss Juniper Dining is a good idea, she said there needs to be discussion about the other dining halls as well.

“We love Champion’s Choice,” Eustace said. “But their hours make it really difficult to get there. The other three dining halls… we haven’t had a really bad experience with (Juniper Dining), but the other ones are bad to us.” 

The USF Dining Facebook page stated that other meetings will be held in the future to address other dining halls. 

Some commenters weren’t satisfied.

“As a parent, I’m appalled at what you are serving our kids,” one person wrote. “Your dining website touts healthy food choices prepared by chefs and yet they are served wilted lettuce, old undercooked food, and canned fruit? I want to know what changes will be immediately made? Don’t tell me about an upcoming meeting. You know the problems; the kids have been very vocal about it. What are you going to do to fix this situation?”

But some students, such as Michael Maurer, a freshman majoring in business, said they aren’t concerned about the dining halls on campus.

“I really like the food and how convenient it is (in Juniper Dining) for students who live here,” Maurer said. “What they offer is good. The people here are nice most of the time, so in terms of that I have no problems.”

Maurer said he usually visits Juniper Dining and Champions Choice, and purchased an unlimited meal plan, which he said he uses approximately three times a day.

Nelson said he plans to attend the forum session on Monday, and he encourages other students to attend and express their opinions as well.

“I think I could do this,” he said. “I have lots of messages saying ‘Hey, I’ve sent this multiple news places in the area,’… and I said that if anyone has any concerns of their own, that they can contact me, and we can go to this forum together.”