By Omar Haggang
Your alarm rings, it is 10:45 AM. You have an 11 AM; after snoozing your alarm for 30 minutes you finally decide to get up. You will get food at Dining Hall after class, better for your credit. You make it to your class which turns out to be boring. In the break you grab a coffee in Dining Hall to make sure you won’t fall asleep in the second half. At 12:45 you meet with your friends to have brunch at Dining Hall, a daily routine. Your friends ask you if you will join them to Dining Hall for dinner too. You are going to cook in your Kromhout kitchen so you politely say no.
This is a typical UCU day, one we probably identify with to at least some extent. However, was this always a normal day at UCU? What was Dining Hall like 10 years ago? What did people think of it back then?
In 2004, Dining Hall was a different place. It was not yet run by Sodexo, and items were not paid for separately; instead, students would pay a fixed amount per semester, for which they could have breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. According to Bart Zantvoort (Class of 2007), this amount was similar to what we pay now, and thus in a way the price/quality ratio was better. On the other hand, Dining Hall did not have any of the fancier options that were only introduced more recently, like the yogurt, sushi and paninis. According to Bart, the food was mediocre. It thus seems that previously, Dining Hall prioritized quantity over quality: “at breakfast and lunch you could have as much bread, cheese and salad etc. as you liked.” When I asked Bart about the public opinion on the food back in his day, he noted that vegetarians did not have a lot to choose from.
Over the years, it appeared that the quality of Dining Hall food improved somewhat, as Joris Zantvoort (Class of 2011 ½) said that he noticed some improvements during his time at UCU. He maintains that “the quality of food was not amazing… but not inedible either.” What did not improve was the quality or choice of vegetarian options: “it was quite bad for vegetarians.” Following his graduation, in 2012 Sodexo took over Dining Hall. Aaron Blumenfeld (Class of 2013 ½) reflects on this change: “all the packaging changed, and it lost some charm because of that.” Additionally, the payment system changed to the system as we know it today, except that initially you could upload as much money to your card as you pleased.
Despite the changes, students continued to complain about Dining Hall. However, as is sometimes the case at UCU, when given the chance to push for change, student participation stayed low. As Aaron pointed out, when students were given the chance to cook their best dish in Dining Hall in order to generate ideas for new, tasty dishes, only 4 people showed up.
As a third year, I have also seen many changes in Dining Hall. In 2014, Dining Hall was a place without breakfast, and the burgers, pizzas fresh sandwiches and sushi were only recently introduced. While dinner was the subject of many complaints, it always included two meat and two vegetarian options – although there was less overall diversity in food. Some notable changes include the recent expansion of the vegetarian and vegan options, and the introduction of all-day opening hours. When I started UCU, you could not quickly get a coffee between your classes as we so often do today. Dining Hall used to be overcrowded for dinner and lunch, with long lines forming at the cash register. Sometimes you could not find a seat in Dining Hall, something which seems unimaginable nowadays.
Dining Hall has changed dramatically over the course of UCU’s existence. But what do students who have not experienced any of these changes think of Dining Hall today? I spoke with two first year students who believed that the overall quality of Dining Hall is good, especially breakfast and lunch. However, dinner continues to be a subject of malcontent. Besides, recent changes appear to have introduced new problems, as one first year noted that “vegetarian options are too often gone at 7 PM.”
However, maybe the most important change happened over the summer: the new Kromhout kitchens. Since their introduction Dining Hall appears to be rather empty for dinner. Students like Mischa increasingly cook dinner in the improved kitchens. After a history of change Dining Hall seems to have to change once more to address the arguable final challenge. Can they make dinner great (again)?