American University’s Dining Advisory Committee held its first meeting of the semester on Feb. 3 at TDR to hear student feedback on ways to improve on-campus dining services.
The committee, which included TDR administration and employees, answered questions from the public about meal plans, dietary restrictions and changes to menu options.
Some students expressed concern about the lack of accommodations for people whose food choices are limited by diet, allergies or religious reasons. Katherine Greenstein, president of the Union of Disabled Students at AU and a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, expressed interest in seeing dining options become more inclusive.
“People who have dietary restrictions, allergies, autoimmune conditions should always have the right to make their own dietary choices,” Greenstein said after the meeting. “So finding a way to make it work for people is one of my biggest concerns in terms of general restoration.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 17% of American adults age 20 and older had some sort of dietary restriction between 2015 and 2018. On the AU Dining websitestudents with special accommodations are encouraged to visit the Office for Students with Disabilities to discuss special requests or services outside of the program currently offered.
Greenstein added that efforts should be made to ensure students with dietary restrictions have access to foods they can not only eat but also enjoy. They also recommended that TDR work to make ‘allergen-free’ options more accessible to students.
“It is important to ensure that people with dietary restrictions have an additional choice,” they said. “It’s not just that we need one option – we need lots of options, like everyone else.”
The committee also discussed its initiative to reduce food waste through several methods such as trayless meals, which Kitchen AU says has saved 900 gallons of water a day and uses FarmShelf, a “smart, automated vertical farm” with custom LED lights that uses 90% less water than traditional farming to produce fresh produce for meals.
As a “leader in sustainability,” according to the AU Kitchen website, the dining hall also practices recycling, hydration stations, and Save a Swipe, an initiative that allows students to donate five meals from their meal plan to help other students in need.
In response to inquiries about the expansion of meal exchanges, committee members said the food offered at on-campus restaurants is determined by the supply chain relationship with the supplier. They explained that problems with these supply chains are what normally cause changes in meal swap policy, for example when Subway’s sub has been reduced to six inches in October.
Freshman SPA student Melanie Klein said that “having clear communication” with students and providing healthier choices are goals that TDR could improve.
“For example, showing the menu before you enter so you can see what’s available or having a strong variation between prepared dishes and things you can customize are very important for students,” Klein said. “Also, just incorporating more produce and healthy options into student meals is a great idea.”
To facilitate communication between administration and students, Klein suggested creating a feedback system where users can rate their experience and post comments about catering services.
“Letting them know which meals to include more often would be helpful,” she said.
Students who wish to provide feedback on their experiences at any AU restaurant can currently post their comments in the Help and services section of the AU website.