Shelter from the Storm

I’m not proud to admit this, but occasionally, from time to time, I will buy food from the Marillac and D’Angelo food courts. Before you get the wrong impression, let me explain.

It usually only happens when I’m in a desperate pinch and need sustenance in order to keep on doing whatever it is I’m doing on campus. Almost always when buying St. John’s food, it’s a result of a screw-up on my end, such as forgetting to pick something up off-campus, pack a lunch or succumbing to peer pressure.

Unfortunately for me, these slip-ups are impossible to avoid with my hectic schedule, and as a result there are times when I have to rely on campus food knowing full well that I’m poisoning my body and being completely ripped off at the same time.

A few weeks ago, while working late on the Torch, I found myself in one of these terrible predicaments. I was in the mood for a cheeseburger that night, and after handing over close to $10 for one from the D’Angelo grill, what I received was truly unbelievable.

Biting into the patty, I felt and tasted something not quite right, and quickly spewed out what I had just paid St. John’s a premium price for. It was a hamburger patty raw as anything, redder on the inside than a cherry tomato. Yuck.

Upon returning my uncooked burger, the cashier  couldn’t help but reveal his embarrassment.

Barring the obvious legal and health concerns that this incident raises, it made me seriously ponder, why, exactly, the food services offered at St. John’s are so dreadfully poor. Is it a problem at this University specifically, or something to be expected at all college campuses?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just me, if the food venues here really aren’t as bad as I think they are. But still I can’t shake the reality of the outrageous prices of food and drink around campus and the bad tasting food those prices buy. I can’t ignore an experience like the one I had with that burger, or forget about the many health violations I’ve seen and heard of over the past few years involving staff members and the state of the facilities used.

To add to my laundry list of reasons for wanting to avoid St. John’s dining, I’m usually served by a staff member who seemingly hates me, the job they are doing, or both. Call me crazy, but the majority of employees that work in food services at St. John’s seem incredibly unhappy to be here.

Maybe it’s the way they’re treated by the University, or maybe they just hold a really low opinion of the students they’re serving. Whatever the problem is, many of the workers behind the counters of Marillac, D’Angelo and Montgoris look as happy to be serving STJ food as I am to be eating it.

Throughout my freshmen and sophomore years as a resident student, Montgoris Dining Hall, the mainstay for dorming studens, had immensely low popularity with its diners and was a reoccurring joke in the resident village. The “Monty Effect” was a common term to describe the repercussions that a meal at Montgoris had on the body. There was even a Facebook page created to poke fun at just how terrible the dining experience at Montgoris was.

Many websites across the Internet that focus on ranking colleges and universities, such as collegeprowler.com, seem to agree with the negative quality of our school’s dining services. The average grade that I could find was a “C,” with standard complaints about pricing, lack of healthy options and bad hours.

This is an unfortunate reality for many students who dorm here, because college life can be stressful and expensive enough without having to deal with things like the Monty effect.

In my time here I have also seen multiple dining areas on campus fail annual city health inspections, including Marillac, the Library Café and the Law School Café. In October of my freshman year, some of the violations in Marillac’s failed inspection included: sanitized equipment or utensils improperly used or stored, evidence of flying insects or live insects in facility’s food and/or non-food areas, and milk or milk product undated and improperly dated or expired. The list goes on.

In November 2007, the Law School Café failed a health inspection with a grand total of 33 violation points.

To give the University credit, those specific failures are three years old, and I haven’t eaten at Montgoris in over a year now. But my raw cheeseburger is certainly not a sign of improvement.

The University has also tried to improve its late-night dining options over the past few years, which is a positive sign of growth. However, these options are still in need of attention.

In 2008, Montgoris began offering a limited menu of items on Monday-Thursday nights. The school then moved its late-night operation to the new St. Vincent’s Red Storm Diner, which was notorious for its steep prices and slow service.

This year, late-night dining has moved to the D’Angelo Center, which is open until 3 a.m. But if you fancy some D’Angelo grub late at night, don’t expect there to be much of a selection. The food court only stays partially open, and by midnight they begin running out of menu items.

I would implore the University to make changes and seriously assess the state of the food services offered to students, but my single pleas would fall on deaf ears. The American food industry is defined by cheap products and streamlined service, a reality that is supported by big businesses like St. John’s and restaurant chains who aren’t as concerned with service as they are with money.

Exploiting cheap labor, buying low-quality foods in bulk, and preparing meals in assembly-line fashion is much too profitable for the University, even if it comes at the ultimate expense to students.

The only way things will truly change in our St. John’s dining halls is for students to voice their dissatisfaction with the service being offered. It’s not a problem that can be addressed by simply criticizing Chartwells; it’s an issue that only the administration can solve, and only the students can inspire.

If you share in my opinion of campus dining, avoid buying into it and convince your friends to do the same. Support local businesses, and don’t accept terrible service from an institution you pay so much to be a part of.