Although Everybody’s Kitchen was granted a redo by public health officials and raised its inspection grade from a “B” to an “A” on Sept. 17, the dining hall has not made enduring adjustments to improve the subpar taste and nutritional value of its food.
As a result, students who have purchased the $2,450 meal plan are spending additional money to avoid the cafeteria and buy food at franchises such as Baja Fresh and California Pizza Kitchen. The obvious solution to stop students from spending more to avoid the place they originally spent their money on is to improve the food quality of EVK. The key to improving EVK for the long-term, however, is student advocacy.
Students might have been understandably alarmed when the cafeteria received a “B” rating from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health after a random inspection on Sept. 19. EVK’s violations — which were minor and did not pose a major threat to students’ health — included high refrigerator temperatures, lack of lids for food storage and dirty kitchen floors.
EVK regained its “A” after fixing broken equipment and increasing the rigor of kitchen checks, but students are plagued with another significant concern: poor-tasting food lacking in nutritional value. Hospitality officials addressed the dirty floors and lukewarm refrigerators, but students’ lack of confidence in EVK means that many continue to spend extra money to dodge the dining hall.
“I’m hungry until I step into EVK,” said Amy Mendoza, a freshman majoring in psychology. “My mom specifically upgraded me to the Trojan Plan so I could avoid EVK.”
Freshmen living in USC housing are required to buy a meal plan at a minimum cost of $2,450 per semester. This basic Cardinal Meal Plan provides unlimited meal swipes at EVK and Parkside Restaurant, but no dining dollars for other on-campus eateries including those at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. Some students upgrade to the Trojan Meal Plan and pay $3,050 per semester for dining dollar access to other venues.
The notion that students must pay even more to get a decent meal on campus is unacceptable. As long as USC Hospitality requires freshmen to spend $2,450 on a meal plan, it is reasonable for students to expect “A” health ratings, nutritious options and appetizing meals. This is where student advocacy comes in to play.
In fall 2008 the Facebook group “OPERATION: Spice up EVK” collected students’ suggestions, and the cafeteria staff implemented changes such as increasing the number of vegetarian options and offering fresh fruit at the salad bar. Representatives from the University Residential Student Community Advocacy Board spearheaded the movement, and student satisfaction with EVK was successfully given a much-needed leg up.
Although it didn’t benefit EVK specifically, another example of student activism that made a positive impact on dining halls was the URSC Parkside Recipe Challenge, in which students submitted their own recipes to be prepared by Parkside’s staff, and diners voted on their favorite meals. The winning recipes were then added to the cafeteria’s rotation of meal options.
By urging the cafeteria staff to implement specific changes, these student programs resulted in more appealing choices. It is time for students to again take ownership of the effort to improve USC’s dining halls; increased communication between diners and hospitality officials can create a new culture at EVK. It has before, and can do so again.
Student advocacy has its hurdles; by maintaining consistent conversation with department leaders, students have the opportunity to execute changes and provide feedback regardless of a rotating cafeteria staff.
Seeking guidance from one of USC’s registered dieticians is another option for students to take ownership of their nutrition. Dieticians host programs on campus, and aid students in mapping out their meals to maintain a balanced diet and still enjoy foods that please the palate.
Based on past movements such as these, hospitality officials have proven their willingness to collaborate with students. Students must take responsibility to work with these officials and ensure that dining halls offer meals that are healthy and enjoyable. Positive programming and student advocacy can forge a path to improving USC’s cafeterias for the long-term, making EVK a hub for both nutritious food and student community.
Kelsey Clark is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism.
Correction: 10/19/10: The opening sentence in the previous version of this story read: “…the dining hall not made enduring adjustments to improve the subpar taste and nutritional value of its food…” The sentence should read “…the dining has not made enduring adjustments to improve the subpar taste and nutritional value of its food…” This version has been corrected to reflect the change.