Campus dining halls in need of culinary upgrade

Ollie Gratzinger | Features Editor
When compared to other universities in the area, Duquesne falls short in terms of food diversity, as well as hours of operation. While Incline is open the latest, until 9 p.m. on week nights, its quality is debatable.

02/01/2018

By Ollie Gratzinger | Features Editor 

They say you are what you eat. If that’s the case, how many of us here on the Bluff are some variation of a Towers’ grilled cheese?

Well, it isn’t like there are that many other delicacies to choose from. The dining hall formerly known as Options has been converted into something that looks like a mall’s food court, and our only “options” are Chick-fil-A or Cinco Cantina, aka Bluffside Chipotle. A few stories below, there’s Incline. At Incline, the fries sometimes taste just like the chicken tenders, and when that happens, they both taste like burnt grease.

There are a lot of complaints being thrown around here, but all jokes aside, every last dining hall woe is a symptom of a much larger and much more serious problem: food accessibility at Duquesne.

Now, when I say food accessibility, I don’t just mean that it’s more difficult for students with different dietary needs to find nutritious, filling and sustainable food that doesn’t taste like cardboard. While that is indeed true – eating kosher is all but impossible on campus, unless you’re willing to commit to a fully vegetarian lifestyle, and vegetarianism on the Bluff is its own beast – it’s hard to find just plain healthy food, too.

In Options, there used to be sandwiches, tacos, chicken, mac and cheese, yogurt and more. Now, there’s only the choice of one fast food place or another. Don’t get me wrong – I love burritos just as much as the next guy, but the price adds up fast. A meal swipe won’t cover the whole thing, and even if it did, there’s the whole nutritional aspect to consider, too. It’s certainly better than Chick-fil-A’s deep-fried, sauce-soaked glories, but by how much? It’s hard to say for sure.

Freshëns is a good place to go if you want something pretty healthy that tastes good, too, but I’ve long since learned that if a restaurant has an umlaut in its title, it’s probably overpriced. Freshëns does little to prove me wrong in that regard. If they took meal swipes, it might make things easier for a lot of people, because nothing will drain your FLEX or PLUS faster than rice bowls and crepes.

It’s no secret that Campus Market might as well be selling designer oatmeal and gold-plated Clif Bars for the price you have to shell out, and for some reason, Fisher Market doesn’t take meal swipes, either. It doesn’t really make much sense. If you’ve got back-to-back classes in Fisher Hall, you’re just plain out of luck. You’re either going to have to pack something from home/dorm/wherever, pay for something using real money or delve into your reserve of the precious commodity, FLEX, all while paying the absurdly high prices you’ll find in Campus Markets everywhere. If that doesn’t seem fair, that’s because it isn’t.

Beyond Towers, meal swipes are few and far between, and the quality of what you might get is always a major coin toss. For example, a ham sandwich in Campus Market comes with a side of fruit. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve cracked open a banana to find brown mush inside or sliced into an apple softened by the first signs of rot, I wouldn’t have to write an article complaining about expensive food prices on campus. Sometimes, the mac and cheese bowls at Incline are boiling hot around the edges with a noodle iceberg at the center, and other times, the pizza is charred and dripping grease – in a bad way.

For the cost of a meal plan, there should be more choices, and those choices should be better. I get that Duquesne is a Catholic school, but it would be nice to have some kosher or halāl options for students that attend for reasons other than religious affiliation. No student should have to go hungry because they’re out of FLEX, tight on cash or at the mercy of an absurdly hectic schedule, let alone because there literally isn’t anything for them to eat. Not everyone has the time to go to Towers and have a sit-down meal, and with the dining hall closing at 7:30 p.m., students with night classes or evening jobs might find dinner plans hard to come by.

Duquesne could start by expanding what’s included in a meal swipe. Try allowing items up to a certain value to be swiped for rather than dictating what does and does not qualify as “meal-swipable.” That way, if a student just wants a Clif Bar and a coffee or a frozen dinner and a soda they can get that instead of settling for a sandwich, chips and half-rotten fruit. Keep Hogan open later, too.

Down the street, Pitt not only has extensive options for celiac, gluten-free, kosher, vegan and other non-traditional diets, but its main dining hall is open until 1 a.m. most nights, 2 a.m. on Thursday, 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 12 a.m. on Sunday.

And, of course, allow meal swipes in Fisher Market! It really can’t be that hard to say, “Well, this thing is available for a meal swipe in Campus Market and Incline, let’s make it available here, too.”

Food accessibility is a complex problem with a simple solution: stop prioritizing revenue and convenience and start listening to what students need and want. Sure, kosher meats and fresh fruit are expensive, but it costs nearly $50,000 per year, per student, to attend Duquesne. There has to be money in the budget for better food, for paying additional staff to expand the hours of the dining halls and ensuring that no student has to throw away food they (over)paid for because it’s rotten, burned or otherwise inedible.

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