“Superblanch” Is Not As Super As It Seems

As a senior, I have experienced both the original system of in-hall dining and the new centralized dining. Although I see some improvements in food variety, I have witnessed a staggering lack of food safety. For example, I recently made a late night trip to the “Cochary Pub” which is a space adjacent to the Dining Commons where I ordered a vegan burger. As I stood by waiting for my order, I watched as the chef working in the kitchen filled orders without wearing gloves. This chef picked up both raw meat and vegan patties with his bare hands and then proceeded to pick up a hand-full of french fries from the fryer basket followed by carrying hamburger buns all without gloves or washing his hands in between. It gets worse: he continued to make intermediate trips to the back room and finally plunged his bare hand into a bin filled with celery sticks soaking in cold water and dropped them onto a plate before shouting, “Order of buffalo wings.” I watched this process continue until my order finally was announced. I picked up my my burger and fries to-go and walked it straight to the nearest trash can.

Unfortunately, this is on-par with the other food hazards and -- frankly -- disgusting food handling that I have witnessed in the new dining spaces at Mount Holyoke over the past year. I am not the only one who has witnessed horrifying food: last year, students posted images on Facebook of maggots among their steamed broccoli and beetles in their kale. If vegetables are no longer appetizing to you, you could always try the grilled chicken with a raw center at the “Classics” station. These may sound like extreme cases, but they are the reality. Even this week while there has been a nationwide recall on romaine lettuce for an E. coli breakout where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised people to avoid eating any romaine lettuce and for food establishments to withhold form serving any until further notice, you can still find two large serving tins full of romaine lettuce at the “Harvest” station in the Dining Commons.

Until 2018, Mount Holyoke College used a unique dining system for their students which consisted of six small dining halls located within residential halls. In previous decades, there was a dining located within every residential hall and students would eat in their respective residences. This intimate form of college dining was maintained with the intent of cultivating a home-like environment and fostering close-knit community on campus. However, last spring, Mount Holyoke opened the doors to its new centralized dining model, following a trend amongst larger institutions. This dining center, located in Blanchard Hall, has been dubbed “Superblanch” by students and has become a divisive topic among the student body. This may seem like an innovative response to the expense of supplying and staffing multiple facilities, but the result of such a large establishment has been mediocre at best and needs many immediate corrections by the Dining Services management.

All of this will probably come as a greater shock knowing that Mount Holyoke sets its “room and board” at a hefty price tag of $14,660 for one academic year. At Mount Holyoke, all students are required to register for the unlimited meal plan which allows them to have an unlimited amount of meals each day at the Dining Commons at the center of the residential campus. According to internal research there are approximately 5,000 dining swipes used per day, which means that many of the 2,208 Mount Holyoke students are not even eating three times a day at the dining hall. With no other places to eat on campus which is set in a rural environment, one has to wonder why students aren’t going to the dining hall more.

Are students not eating at the Dining Commons because they feel unsafe consuming the food? I think that this plays a large part in what students consume, but I don’t think it is the sole cause for the lack of consumption. The dining commons is also extremely inefficient in the way it is constructed and managed. There is a plaque hanging in the entrance of the space which states that the maximum capacity for the area is about 1,100 people and this is quickly felt during any mid-day food rush. The space funnels students walking around into crowded lanes of people choosing their food or searching for open seating. Currently, class schedules are constructed in a way that the entire student body’s lunch break falls at the same time which means overcrowding in the dining hall. From the opening of the new dining space, there has been an outcry from students about their frustrations in being able to use the dining commons in an effective manner. This has received responses that act as band-aids to a bigger issue. For faculty and staff members who are able to go home to their stocked refrigerators and home-cooked meals, the Dining Commons appears to be a cool place to try out a quick meal, but for students this is their only option. At the end of the day, dining services works to make a profit from their space and they are pressed to spin the new space as a success to appease donors who invested a cool 50 million dollars in the project. I think that “Superblanch” is in dire need of a top-down reflection from Dining Services on the daily operations of their facilities.

The Mount