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Food for thought: One student’s gripe with Sodexo

Levine is a first-year politics major and can be contacted at benjamin.levine@drake.edu

Photo: Connor McCourtney

I simply cannot hold it in any longer; Sodexo may be the worst food supplier in the history of all food suppliers. I mean, honestly, we’d probably be served better in prison, which makes me wonder if Drake would allow students to head on over to the county jail during mealtimes? Being surrounded by hardcore criminals may not be comforting, but I’d do anything for a nice steak.

In all seriousness though, Sodexo needs to step its game up. I could sit here and discuss the numerous times that I’ve found hair in my food or the one time that literally half of my grilled chicken sandwich was a hard, unedible tendon, but those are rather petty complaints compared to the overall problem with our eatery. The real problem is this: The food is extremely unhealthy. Seriously, where else could I eat nothing but fruit and vegetables yet still gain weight? It is as if even Sodexo’s supposedly “healthy foods” are fattening and although I am impressed by this fairly amazing feat, I’d rather have food that is not going to kill me before I graduate.

Of course, the food they serve us during the academic school year is nothing like when we first visited. Being a student here full-time, I have now noticed the difference between everyday dining and special dining; when there is a large group of prospective students on campus, Hubbell becomes a neo-Ruby Tuesday. All right, admittedly, Ruby Tuesday’s is kind of an average restaurant, but after eating here for a year, it seems like full-blown kosher.

And don’t forget about parents’ weekend. When all the middle-aged folks—you know, with the money—come into town, things start to change. It was during parents’ weekend that, for the first time at Drake, I saw strawberries and it was like an agricultural epiphany. The stark difference in food made me bewildered and I half expected waiters to come out, serve a three-course meal and then serenade the students. It was a nutritious bliss of sorts.

This upgrade does not last long, though, and before we know it, the food is back to, well, whatever it actually is. I will admit that the breakfast they serve is not all that bad—the eggs are usually good, the bacon is a little too crispy for my liking, but nothing horrible, and the pancake, French toast and waffle combination is killer. But post-breakfast in Hubbell is like choosing between 10 different ways to gain weight. No, Sodexo, I don’t want to decide between a sickly looking hamburger, some sort of broccoli with cheese mixture and a salad that has the most insanely hard grilled chicken. Instead, I’d like to maybe have some nice fruit—that isn’t firm as a rock or soft as baby food—and chicken that tastes like, preferably, chicken.

Because of the poor food quality, I needed to find out more about Sodexo. Could it possibly be due to the fact that the company is struggling financially and the quality of food represents its economic standing? Of course that is a ridiculous assumption and, as I expected, is far from the truth. In 2010, Sodexo posted a 4.1 percent increase in full-year net profits and, in 2011, the company hopes to earn even more. This part does not bother me because as a private company it is meant to seek profit, and I understand that.  However, when the products become poor in quality a problem arises, especially because Sodexo has a monopoly over the heavily regulated food market at Drake.

Talking about the subpar food is not constructive, though. If we really want to change the quality of what we are served then we need to do something. Remember, as a consumer of Sodexo’s products we have a great deal of influence. Of course, as I just alluded to, this is complicated by the fact that Drake has a contract with Sodexo that guarantees its products only. But this does not mean we can’t wield our power. Taking those annoying surveys at lunch (and answering honestly) as well as writing to Sodexo here at Drake and demanding a change is a definite start.

The next step would be to ask our university to consider a change when Sodexo’s contract is up, that is, if the company does not upgrade our food. Perhaps Drake could allow some old-fashioned competition between food suppliers? Anyway, remember, we do have a significant amount of power as students and maybe if we make enough noise we’ll see strawberries once again. Ah, whom am I kidding, let’s go eat with the inmates down at the county jail.


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  1. Eryn April 10, 2011

    Wow. You are completely uninformed about Sodexo’s offerings. First of all, Sodexo strives to make the dining healthy, more so than you probably know. Most of the mayonnaise used is reduced-fat, as are many of the bases for the “heavier” foods. The fact that you are gaining weight has nothing to do with the lack of healthy choices at Hubbell, it is your inability to choose healthy choices. There are plenty of foods offered that fit a healthy lifestyle, but you just aren’t choosing the right foods if you are gaining weight. Maybe you should reconsider your dining choices. Just read http://drakeudining.com/nutrition.html and you will find out what I am talking about. Stop blaming others for the issues you are experiencing.

    Secondly, the food isn’t that bad. I don’t understand why people always complain about the quality of food served here at Drake. Just be grateful that you are fed every single day and do not have to go hungry like 1 out of 10 Americans has to. Don’t even get me started on how many people worldwide are hungry and die from hunger on a daily basis. Yet, you sit here and complain that your grilled chicken is not up to your standards. Just don’t eat the chicken then. Nobody is forcing you to eat it. You live in a country with more than enough choices for food, yet you complain that you don’t like the quality of your food. How sad.

  2. D April 10, 2011

    While I agree choice may be involved with whether or not this individual is gaining weight, I don’t think Sodexho is completely innocent. There’s so much grease on some of the things, you can’t just find steamed vegetables or fruit not swimming in a sugary syrup. So even though there may be choices, those choices aren’t always the most appealing or the healthiest.

    Second- Choices don’t always equal quality. And Sodexo definitely does play the whole “step it up game” when there’s any sniff of money on campus. The food they serve at leadership conferences for students is far better than what they serve on a day to day basis in the dining hall. Maybe you would like to share what you feel are the “quality” and “healthy” choices you make that have informed the opinion you have articulated.

  3. Sean April 10, 2011

    I’m really disappointed in the publication of this column. Besides being a very poorly written column, it doesn’t even seem like the writer has any knowledge of Sodexo. Did he attempt to contact anyone within dining at Drake? Did he check out their website? Did he try attending a Student Board of Directors (SBOD) meeting that any student can be part of and discuss with Sodexo mangers changes that he wants to see? I don’t think he has tried to do any of these.

    Instead, he chose to produce an unfair, unintelligent rant in the campus newspaper. That’s unfortunate.

  4. Jack April 10, 2011

    It gets even worse: Health inspectors just failed Sodexo for roaches and mice running around their operations at Fordham University: http://www.theramonline.com/news/sodexo-cited-for-health-violations-1.2533343

    And as if this company isn’t bad enough to students, they’re at the center of a high-profile human rights controversy over treatment of workers. Students are trying to kick them off dozens of campuses over this. Look up the Human Rights Watch report at kickoutsodexo.org !

  5. Chelsey Teachout April 11, 2011

    This is a an interesting story about something FoodCorps is doing to work with schools. Even though it is geared towards schoolchildren it still has merit.

    Maybe you should also look into the community garden that is less than a block south of Drake; I saw people planting there the other day. Have you spoken to anyone at Sodexo? They do have a sustainability panel for students.

  6. Drake Student April 11, 2011

    Do you really think that you are the first freshman to write an article like this complaining about Sodexo?

    1. Ben Levine April 12, 2011

      Nope, I figured I wasn’t the first person to write about this. But interestingly enough you chose to read it! And, by the way Eryn, it was a fairly light hearted commentary on my opinion of the food here – I wasn’t interested in discussing the problem of world hunger and I appreciate not starving to death more than you think I do. After all, it is kind of a necessity in life.

  7. Sure Freshman April 12, 2011

    Being a freshman I understand the hardships you’ve gone through with Sodexho, what the whole 7 months of contact that you’ve had with them. Although you raise a good point, albeit terribly researched, Sodexho has been raising there low standards for years when prospys and there gullible, rich parents come through. I agree the choices in food are lacking and the nutritional facts that Sodexho provides are most likely not true, or perhaps true but not for food that has been sitting out for hours simmering in it own grease.

    I would be interested to see what ends up happening at those universities. Not only has Sodexho been found out on a national level, but I highly doubt that most of the food workers at Drake have had much experience or training in food preperation and delivery. Not only are the unskilled and usually rude, but some of the women wear charcoal on their fingers in respect to their religion. I agree they should be able to practice, but not when they’re practices could be physically harmful to students.

    Overall Sodexho has been slacking at Drake since my sister graduated from here in 2006, as a Highly regarded, accredited University we should be on par with our sister school Creighton in most aspects. I know I have eaten a steak at Creighton’s dining hall..never at Drake’s. I for one would be willing to pay an extra 500-1000 a year for this food upgrade, I mean Drake’s already raised tuition numerous times in the last 4 years, why not make actual improvements as well?

    PS The Times Delphallic is a terrible newspaper

  8. Kristina/Evelyn April 12, 2011

    Eryn –
    Reduced fat mayonnaise or salad dressing is irrelevant when five times the recommended amount is used to make our sandwiches. Furthermore, starving children are not the issue here. Yes, hunger is problem worldwide. Thank you for enlightening us on this unknown issue! This article is addressing the issue that we pay $40,000 a year to go to school at Drake, which includes around $4,000 dollars towards a meal plan. That entitles us to be at least slightly picky about finding a hair in our food or having saltine crackers as an option for a side.

    Your suggestion to refrain from eating chicken really doesn’t solve the problem. If we refrained from eating all undesirable things from Sodexo, we would have no other option besides the soft-serve ice cream (when the machine is functioning). College aged students need protein in their diet, especially when exercising daily. Sodexo offers few options aside from the buffalo chicken wrap or the pepperoni pizza. The website you provided gave us this clever tip: “Building a healthy plate means filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, followed by ¼ of the plate consisting of lean protein choices and the remaining ¼ of the plate consisting of good-for-you grains.” While this is helpful advice, I challenge you to find enough “lean protein” in Hubbel to fill up even 1/8 of a plate. I don’t think that meatloaf, hamburgers, or stir fry made with chicken nuggets really fits into that category. I’m sure many of us would love to eat half a plate of fruits and vegetables, but when the only options are a giant bowl of honeydew melon (because everyone picks out the 12 pieces of cantaloupe first) and a salad made up of caesar dressing (don’t worry, they use at least 7 pieces of lettuce), I don’t find that very feasible. But hey, maybe next time I’ll try and be extra healthy and grab a piece of cherry pie – that gives me fruit AND good-for-you-grains… Right Er?

  9. John October 15, 2011

    Neo A@M College in Miami Oklahoma is also noticing more troubles with Sodexo having bad raw food with blood still dripping out of it. Some of those raw foods are chicken,roast beef, pork chops, and more. I have seen dirty dishes in the dinning hall, and the front house dinning cooks in charge is always griping at students, or her employees. Out around the tables, and counter tops is not being cleaned like it should be. I have also seen cook go from one station on the front serving line to another without washing their hands. As a student the thought of bad food safety is never far from my mind, and the things that I see just makes me not even want to eat on campus. They have fired or even made workers leave from when my brother use to go to school there last year. Now the service sucks, their attitude stinks, their food is deadly, and I don’t want to stick around with them cooking on campus at all.

  10. Elizabeth November 26, 2011

    I go to Stetson University in Deland, FL and we have the same problems with Sodexo. I wouldn’t complain about the food so much if it was fairly priced, but I pay $2000 a semester to eat unhealthy crap. Finding healthy options is very very difficult. Students are forced to get meal plans for 2 years, and each meal ends up costing anywhere from $8-$11. If you get a chicken breast, chances are it will be incredibly small and fatty. Maybe one chicken breast isn’t enough, so you get two. Get two and they will charge you for two meals, which means you pay $20 for a couple sides and two sad chicken breasts. Disgusting!

  11. anne February 15, 2012

    Wow, I couldn’t agree more with this article. I am currently a freshman a Fordham University and am absolutely fed up with Sodexo. The quality of the food is outrageous and no matter what I consume it causes my body to gain weight. Now, this is not a case of the lazy freshman fifteen. I attend Fordham on a track scholarship and work out every single day. I run about forty miles a week and weight train. I have never been this active before college yet I have put on a substantial amount of weight. It is without a doubt due to the food. All I eat is pasta with vegetables, salads and fruits yet I have gained about ten pounds. It’s so completely aggravating to have no control over what you put into your body. I HATE Sodexo.

  12. Ken February 20, 2012

    I am currently a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, and I couldn’t agree more with this article. I am so fed up with Sodexo! Every…day… is the same: processed turkey or chicken, gummy, bland pasta, NEVER ANY STEAK, char-flavored burgers, canned broccoli simmering in a mixture of water and margarine. And, once a month or so, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a decent (relatively… we’re talking maybe tacos, luke-warm fish, or a sad attempt at chicken curry) meal on a weekend when either parents are on campus, prospective students are touring, or a student “festival-type” event takes place. I can’t stand the thought of paying over $2000 a semester for a meal plan offering this type of food. This food is honestly worse than the food of my high school cafeteria.

    Sodexo offers their “comment card” gimmick and they NEVER follow through (although I’m sure most of the comments aren’t honest). The workers never seem happy, the manager that walks around never asks students about the food.

    At one of our cafeterias, Sodexo had been offering a “Stir-fry Friday,” which, mind it, is not a bad idea, if only they offered vegetables that people want in a stir-fry, or trained their staff to have an idea on how to cook one. Finally, after countless slow fridays they got the hint that the Stir-fry Friday was not a success, so now (I overheard the manager tell an employee), they are planning to replace it with a salad bar! Oh boy! I cannot wait to have a choice between bagged, unwashed, limp iceburg lettuce or bagged spinach. And I will be able to top it with processed, leather-like steak bits or formed, “grilled” chicken slices!

    Glad to get that off my chest.

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