With COVID-19 shutting our usual way of life down, nearly all aspects of life on Binghamton University’s campus look completely different. Dining has been significantly altered on campus to help curb the spread of the virus. One dining hall isn’t in service and the ones that are have been experiencing new issues.
This isn’t the first time that students have raised concerns regarding BU’s dining practices. Pipe Dream’s Arts & Culture section recently published an article covering the lack of proper handling of food to students with allergies and dietary restrictions. The article revealed that, despite making her allergies known to workers at the on-campus Starbucks, one student still received a drink with ingredients she couldn’t have, and she subsequently went into anaphylaxis. BU should be taking any risk to student health seriously, and it appears that the current dining situation isn’t meeting student expectations.
Because of the pandemic, the dining halls have resorted to using plastic single-use carry-out containers. Although these containers may appear as the most sanitary option, it creates a new issue with the food itself. The meal may have not touched anything else during its time out, but leaving a meal in a plastic container under heat lamps worsens the quality of the food and could potentially pose other health issues. Besides the plastic containers, the lack of choices, limited ingredient and allergen information and the addition of different foods put into a single container could heighten risks of cross contamination for those suffering from food allergies.
COVID-19 spreads largely from face-to-face contact and many local restaurants have navigated take-out only options successfully. Our dining halls should be able to do the same. Workers can plate fresh food to order into take-out containers so that food doesn’t have to sit uneaten for a long time. Many of the food services in the Marketplace have been utilizing this method since the start of the semester.
Large amounts of plastic are also being wasted as a result of the new sanitary measures. After so much time and money spent on sustainability efforts for BU’s dining, it is a massive step backward for making a greener campus environment. The plastic containers currently used aren’t fully compostable like they once were, with the bottoms made entirely of plastic as well as the utensils. BU dining can still prioritize sanitation and safety while opting for more eco-friendly options. It is also essential that any products deemed recyclable or compostable are disposed of properly, not just mixed in with other trash. Students could also bring plates back to dorms and leave them in designated spaces near trash and recyclable pickup. Many residence halls already have shelves in place for this exact purpose.
There is also the issue of dining hall seating. With the weather slowly, but surely, getting colder, outdoor dining will no longer be a viable option. As of right now, seats in the dining halls have been removed to encourage social distancing, but there is little to no enforcement of policies. With more people moving inside, there will be more students to deal with and more work for those University employees. It has been stated that those violating social distancing rules could lose seating privileges within the dining hall — BU needs to follow through on that promise to assure student accountability.
There are still several things that BU dining has been able to correct since the start of the semester. Dining services did recently reach out to students regarding any leftover money on their accounts from the previous semester. They’ve also increased portion sizes at the request of students and will begin implementing more cost-effective options — including salad and pasta selections.
The fact that the administration and dining services are listening to students says a lot. For those on campus who only have meal plans, it is no secret that there aren’t as many options right now, and eating at the Marketplace is costly. The pandemic has caused us to sacrifice a lot for the sake of safety, and rightfully so. However, the dietary health of students must be made paramount to the administration. Food is more than what we fuel ourselves with, it can be a comfort or way to keep up with any health requirements. Everyone deserves to eat food that makes them feel like things are almost normal.