Facebook food fight

Online griping won’t do much to fix larger issues with campus dining.

By Tori Borengasser

Last Friday, a Facebook group called “UChicago: Where Good Food Comes to Die” was created in order to give voice to students dissatisfied with the recent health inspection failures at Cathey and Bartlett Dining Commons. The group calls itself “a Public Forum for people to post pictures/comments about things happening in the dining halls.” Within hours of its creation, a petition titled “Down With Aramark,” was created. Currently the group has 1,065 members and continues to grow rapidly.

It’s easy to take a back seat and post some pictures of hair in your food on Facebook, but that does not an activist movement make. The group essentially reduces the larger issues of dining on campus to posts worthy of a few “likes” and laughs on the “Overheard at UChicago” Facebook group. What’s even more problematic is the way it allows students to make immature and irrelevant complaints, spread false information, and makes those involved feel good about supporting an issue while actually doing nothing to initiate change.

The majority of complaints on the group don’t reflect real issues in the dining hall and are representative of a privileged attitude. Last Friday, a student’s post read, “On Wednesday there was a dish of yellow spicy noodles with chickpeas at the Halal station in South, on thursday [sic], the exact same dish appeared at the Euro station as a ‘side’ to a completely unrelated meal.” Seriously? Check your privilege at the door and realize that leftovers don’t mean poor food quality. Leftovers do not only prevent food waste; they’re also economical.

If you want better, more exciting, and less repetitive food, you will have to pay more. Both the petition and the Facebook group declare, “Students are forced to pay $5,232 a year, $1,744 a quarter or $581.33 a month to eat repetitive, flavorless, cold, and undercooked food.” This kind of attitude seems to reflect dissatisfaction with the offerings in food variety rather than qualms over a basic right to health. Another student comments, “I physically can’t comprehend why for that much money I’m being fed slop.” Cathey is not a feeding trough, you are not a pig being fed food scraps, and the food certainly isn’t worthy of comparisons to slop.

There are a few comments that discuss real measures that should be taken by students outside of Facebook as well as discussions on the University’s relationship with Aramark, but they are few and far between. This Facebook group aims to be taken seriously and have its images of poor food quality viewed by University officials and Dining staff, but the immature and exaggerated comments that litter it lower the credibility of students’ legitimate complaints.

On Sunday, a Tumblr blog called “uchicagofoodproblems” was also created to supplement the Facebook group. The blog posts images of failed inspection records from the city’s food inspection database and reposts images from the Facebook group. The blog’s aim seems to be to increase the level of bad PR that UChicago Dining receives in order to elicit a response from the University. However, creating another social media outlet just regurgitates information for the sake of awareness. And we are all very aware that changes must be made to campus dining. Even housing and dining officials know that things need to change, and they want to change them. The real issue is taking action.

Finally, the original iteration of the petition claimed, “This year there have been no dining representative meetings to talk about issues within the dining hall,” which is blatantly false. The Campus Dining Advisory Board meets every three weeks each quarter and involves three members from Inter-House Council, Student Government reps, and the head of dining services. They have, in fact, had three meetings this year so far. Aside from the spoiled rants about food blandness, the petition publicizes false information about the level of transparency between students and dining staff and makes it seem as if signing an online petition is the only way to set change into motion at UChicago.

Don’t get me wrong: I, too, am very disappointed with the declining food quality over the past two years and the multiple failed health inspections. In fact, as a resident of South Campus, food at Cathey Dining Commons was the largest factor in my decision to move off campus next year and cease to support UChicago Dining and Aramark. What I find immensely disappointing is the number of students who believe that using social media to complain is an effective way of bringing about change. It didn’t work for Kony 2012, and it’s not going to work for where you eat lunch.

If you are upset with UChicago Dining, tell them. Email them or use their Web site’s feedback form. Fill out a comment card at any of the dining halls. Speak to a dining hall manager. Talk to your Inter-House Council representative or, best of all, talk to your house’s Dining Hall Representative. And if none of these options seem to work, take to the streets like those campaigning for a South Side trauma center or meet with dining and housing officials yourself to ask them why these important issues are being ignored. These myriad means of reaching out to UChicago Dining, Aramark, and the University itself are easy ways to take action and effect change with your words. Notice that Facebook is not one of them.

Tori Borengasser is a second-year in the College majoring in cinema and media studies.