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PSU dining doesn’t meet student expectations

Dining on campus should cater to students, but Portland State’s dining options can’t seem to live up to standards. Various complaints from students regarding PSU’s dining accessibility and quality have been brought up.

Meal Plan

Freshman students or First Year Experience (FYE) students living on campus are required to have a meal plan with access to Victor’s Dining Center for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This plan costs students at least $1044 per term but can go up to $1426 for the “All Access” option. The lowest plan offered grants a student 10 meals a week, which is not enough to eat two meals a day.

First-year student Osiris Mercade believes “the quality of food doesn’t really equate to the price of it.” To have access to Smith’s Kitchen, you must get dining dollars or pay out of pocket. Dining dollars are money you give to PSU and then they give you 10% of it as an increase. Essentially, to eat three substantial meals a day, a student has to either pay $1426 per term for a seat at Victor’s or cough up their own money for some take-out.

Dining Hall Hours

Unfortunately, the dining halls often fail to meet expectations. The main dining hall, Victor’s Dining Center, operates during unsuitable hours that don’t work with all student schedules. The dining halls serve lunch from 11 a.m.–1:30 p.m., with only “light lunch” options during meal gaps. This time frame is too small for many to take advantage of. On Saturdays and Sundays, the hall is closed entirely between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. and reopens back up from 5 to 7 p.m., forcing students to look elsewhere during those gap hours.

Their dinner hours are not that accessible either. On weekdays, Victor’s closes at 8 p.m. and from  Friday–Sunday it closes at 7 p.m. “[Students] need more weekend hours because [they] rely on the dining hall,” said sophomore Sierra Gray.

During term breaks, the dining hall has no operation hours at all. For four weeks in winter term and two weeks in spring, students have to find food elsewhere. Despite the time discrepancy, the price of the meal plan does not change for these terms. In addition to this, Smith’s Kitchen, despite having multiple food establishments closes between  4–5:30 p.m., depending on the vendor.

Lack of accessible foods

American food culture has changed significantly over the past decade. Today’s college students are drifting away from greasy pizza and hamburgers and toward organic produce, whole grains and international foods. Some students require vegan or vegetarian food options while others prefer eating food that is ethically sourced, nutritious and environmentally conscious.

To address this new generation of students, many colleges such as Kennesaw State University  and University of Oregon have revamped their dining programs. The lunch lady in the kitchen stirring the mystery soup has been replaced by an executive chef and well-trained kitchen staff.

Sadly, more often than not, the menu at Victor’s rotates between the same general options like pizza, soup and salad, with a few unique options that are repeated every few weeks. This is a shame, especially considering the diversity of the Portland food scene and the possibilities of PSU’s location and facilities. Some students feel as if the dining hall does not provide enough healthy food options.

“The food is very fattening, and I’ve heard that people have been getting sick,” said first-year student Lila Renteria. “They should provide only fresh and healthy foods and they should cook their food with something that’s non-grease. Since we’re a country battling obesity and heart disease, we should not be serving any sort of junk food or sweets to our students. There are alternatives to these foods that are much healthier.”

In recent years, The Hartman Group’s A.C.T. (Anthropology. Culture. Trends.) Health & Wellness Now have seen a substantial rise in health consciousness amongst consumers. The Gen Z demographic is amongst the highest group focused on where their food is sourced and what it will do to their body.

“People with dietary restrictions don’t have many options,” first-year Shannon McCarron said. “It’s difficult to eat healthy as well, because sometimes things like vegetables, rice and fruit are undercooked, unripe, not warmed properly, etc.”

According to a study conducted by PETA, vegetarians and vegans are becoming more numerous on college campuses, resulting in more schools creating restaurants specifically for this student population.

Health implications

The health implications of having an incompatible dining hall are numerous. Previously, most students who chose not to eat in the dining hall instead became regulars at local fast-food and pizza places, eating unhealthy meals two or three times per day. Healthline has conducted research that shows how unhealthy eating habits can lead to other health problems such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Everyday we are becoming more aware that what goes into our bodies can have a real impact on how we feel during the day. Going to class on an empty stomach or full of unhealthy food leads to problems with concentration, mood swings, headaches and more, according to Living Strong. Being able to eat good food in the morning, at noon and at night can help students feel better both physically and mentally.

When students are deciding which school to attend, the usual stuff comes into play such as academic programs, athletics and extracurricular activities. However, with the evolution of college dining facilities this has also become part of the decision-making process. Students considering a school need to consider the dining facilities as well, particularly if they have a medical condition that requires a special diet. Those students who are vegetarians or vegans also need to take a close look at a college’s dining arrangements.

The dining options at PSU were made for students, yet they are not catering to them. From food to hours of operation, the system stands to be inaccessible. On top of classes and outside obligations food is the last thing a student should feel unsure about. PSU should not only  address these issues but make an effort to change.

We reached out to Director of Marketing and Guest Experience Kim DiNardo, Executive Chef Matt Steele and Interim Victor’s Dining Center Director Dan Sprauer, but they did not respond by publication date. CJ Huseo, Taylar Rivers, McKinzie Smith and Delaney White contributed to this article.