Sodexo Food Services has been a hot topic at the University of New Brunswick for years. Talk surrounding food quality, availability of healthy food options and meal plan costs have left many students unhappy with the food company.
Sodexo has been the sole food provider for UNB since 2013. In the UNBF/Sodexo agreement, Sodexo is the only food provider allowed to serve food at the UNB Fredericton campus.
It is a large consensus that the Sodexo staff are great employees, despite frustrating service restrictions.
“Every day I was greeted by people who smiled, cared, and asked what I needed. However, Sodexo does not enable their employees to actually serve students decent meals,” says Rachel Bensler, a second-year student at UNB.
Despite the kind staff and Sodexo’s efforts to accommodate students who have allergies and dietary restrictions with updates to its meal halls, those with specialized diets are still struggling with limited food options on campus.
Alongside many dietary restrictions, Bensler has a garlic allergy, which limits her food options at school.
“At Sodexo… I was regularly served plain chicken, plain rice, and plain cooked veggies… By regularly, I mean I was served this five days a week for dinner,” says Bensler.
In the UNBF/Sodexo agreement, Sodexo pledges to offer both vegetarian and vegan options at each meal.
In spite of these promises, students do not hesitate to point out there is room for improvement, particularly when students pay thousands of dollars for a meal plan that doesn’t accommodate their dietary needs.
“Sodexo would usually offer one vegetarian option at each meal—not always vegan, and most often not gluten-free. The vegetarian option was almost always the exact same meal, and it was far from a healthy option,” says Hannah Moore, a fourth year student who is vegan and Celiac.
Not only are students disappointed with the availability of plant-based options, many students are angry with the lack of healthy options in general.
It isn’t uncommon to hear students mention eating the same thing every day for lunch. Although there are staple, moderately healthy, and comfort foods available at meal hall, there are not enough options to satisfy everyone’s needs. Students explain that there are some days when Sodexo offers only the bare minimum.
“Sure, if you like eating hamburgers and fries every day meal hall is great, but if you actually want to eat healthy the options are scarce,” says Jamie Barr, a first-year student living in residence.
Sodexo has also been accused by students of reusing ingredients from previous meals, particularly in the “tater tot casserole”.
“They serve tater tot casserole at least two or three times a week, and everyone thinks they use the leftover tater tots from breakfast and put them into a casserole. You won’t catch me eating that,” says Barr.
“When you see shrimp cooked one day, then the next there is shrimp in the Mac and cheese, then the next day there is shrimp Mac and cheese pizza—yes, I am not joking. You begin to question what type of food they are feeding everyone,” says Bensler.
This availability of seemingly only unhealthy options, students had to resort to the My Kitchen or the salad bar for most meals.
“Eventually I gave up on trying to eat any of the prepared warm meals, and just ate from the salad bar where I knew exactly what I was putting into my body,” says Moore.
Eating unhealthy foods daily has a significant impact on a student’s health, and not just physical health.
“The health and mental health of students is going to be significantly altered by eating bad food every day,” says Bensler.
And although these mediocre food options do not seem to be improving, meal plan costs are continuing to rise.
Mandatory meal plans for university students living in residence at UNB cost more than two thousand dollars per semester, a nine percent increase since the 2016-2017 academic year.
More importantly, poor nutrition and unhealthy food options are reasons why obesity and undernourishment are so prominent among university students. However, a larger cause of this is the absence of better, healthier options.
“There are other options than using a massive corporation to supply your meal hall. Universities should recognize the importance of nourishing students while… incorporating locally grown foods into their meal hall,” says Moore.