-by Gwynevere Isabella
Kutztown University’s dining services are an important part of almost every person at the university’s lives, whether they are residents, professors, or commuters. At one time or another, everyone is likely to eat on campus at least once. However, many students do not know much about what the dining services do or what they have to offer. Most students do not even know how they can get involved in the foods they are eating every day! Knowing this, I set up an interview with fellow student and dining service employee Sterling Spencer to set the record straight on what the dining services do and have to offer, and how the consumers can influence what they eat, .
I sat down in the South Dining Hall of Kutztown University on a Saturday evening, sipping a free refill of iced tea bought from the dining services and munching on some delicious curly fries as I waited for him to get himself situated. He was in his work uniform, having just finished a shift making sandwiches at the deli. Though he seemed a bit tired from being on his feet working with customers for several hours, he was still quite cheerful and ready to talk about his job working downstairs in the Kutztown South Dining Hall.
Once he was settled in we got right down to business. “Ok,” I asked, “before we get started, how about you give me a little background on yourself. Do you have any background or special interest in food that makes you have a better understanding of food?”
“Well, my eating habits give me an interest in food,” Sterling explained. “I’m a pescetarian, which means I do not eat any meat besides seafood. This means I have to pay closer attention to nutrition than most people, making sure I get proper amounts of iron and protein in my diet.”
“How long have you worked for the food service at Kutztown?”
He paused and did some quick mental math. “It’s been since the beginning of October of 2012, so a little over a year.”
“Oh, so you’ve been there for quite some time,” I said conversationally, taking note of the time.
“Yes, I guess you could say I’ve been around for a while.” He chuckled. “So I know a lot about how things are done.”
“I know you work downstairs, in the take-out type foods like the sandwich shop, not upstairs at the buffet. What are your basic duties for working in this part of the dining hall?” I asked him.
“My duties are to prepare and serve food for the customers, keep my work environment clean, and as hazard free as possible,” he rattled off automatically.
I was disappointed by this seemingly mechanical response, but not discouraged. “You’re behind the scenes helping to cook the food us students eat every day. Tell me something interesting that most people on campus don’t know about the food service here at Kutztown.”
“I don’t think it’s for lack of information…” Sterling began, trailing off into thought. “People can attend the Food Advisory Board meetings… they just don’t. They complain plenty, it’s true, but only amongst themselves, and never to the people who can actually help them out. The students of Kutztown actually have a considerable voice of what is served at south dining hall, but they just choose not to use it.” Then he laughed. “But, I digress, as I haven’t answered your question. I think that people should know about portioning. People can literally eat whatever they want, whenever they want, because they want to. But it’s all about how much of what they eat. As long as you control your portions, and eat the proper proportions recommended by the dining program, you will be happy and healthy.”
“That makes sense. I think you should tell me more about these Food Advisory Board meetings,” I replied. “If the information is shared, maybe more people will take an interest in their food and take part in the meetings regularly.”
“I’m not entirely sure when they take place, but I know that food specials are discussed there, and what food is seen upstairs, and you can make requests for food, and tell South Dining what they’re doing well, and what needs improvement.”
“That’s really interesting!” I told him. “Do you know how to join?”
“If you want to be a member you should talk to Amanda Fretz, she is the contact for the group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in asking her any questions or joining FAB, just talk to her, I’m sure she can help you out.” He helpfully copied her email down for me.
“What sorts of things do they talk about changing at FAB?” I asked curiously, taking the paper he handed me. I was excited to know what sort of changes could be made by student involvement. This was the whole point of my interview: how can we the people get involved?
“Oh, all sorts of things!” Sterling told me. “For example! We used to use styrofoam containers for take out meals downstairs, but no longer…”
“Yes, I remember. They were more convenient for carrying a large meal back to your dorm room, but less environmentally correct, I believe.” I said, thinking back to the large take out boxes.
“Yes,” Sterling said, nodding emphatically. “Very much so.”
“Do you know of any other changes that have been made for environmental reasons?” I asked him.
He shook his head sadly. “No, I do not. I wish there were more changes made.”
“That’s unfortunate,” I said, discouraged by this lack of environmental awareness in our dining services.
“Yes, it is,” Sterling agreed, “but that’s just because people need to get involved. Like I said, students at Kutztown have a lot of say in what they are eating, if only they actually cared to go to meetings and work with people. We could have healthier, more varied culturally and dietarily, and more sustainable meals with better composting and recycling if students got together and requested it. That’s all it takes.”
“Well, that just goes to show that the students need to realize how they can help, and what a difference it could make! But for now, what sorts of healthy foods can students order?”
Now that’s a good question,” he told me. “Most people don’t know that we offer more vegetarian and healthier options of eating! For example, I’ve had to introduce many a person to the fried green beans at the grill and grilled vegetables, or the Twelve Grain Bread at the deli as opposed to bleached white flour bread. We all don’t have to eat burgers and chicken wraps we have options and whatnot.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “I’m a vegetarian myself, and I didn’t know we had green beans available! But fried? You said we were talking about healthy food here. That doesn’t sound particularly healthy to me.”
Sterling shrugged. “For now, that’s what there is. Food could be healthier, if the students made it clear that was what they wanted. That’s what F.A.B. is for, you know? It’s for changing how we eat, and how the dining services benefit everyone involved. Sure, we workers make the food. We keep the materials we are given clean and safe for consumption. But it is up to the students to give us feedback.”
I felt a sudden wave of skepticism. Trusting students to be clean and safe? I have heard horror stories of the food business, tales of spit in sandwiches and fingers in fast-food. “You said you need to keep your work environment clean and hazard-free. What are the sanitary requirements in your workplace and how strictly are they enforced?”
Sterling smiled. “That’s a pretty detailed question. There are a lot of things we’re required to do to keep the food safe and clean.”
“Like what?” I asked. “This is important information. People should know that their food is safe and sanitary before eating it. That’s a part of being involved, isn’t it?”
“You asked for it. Before coming into any work station, employees are required to wash their hands. Before any food is prepared, employees are required to wash their hands.” Sterling began. “Also, when preparing food, before anything is done, the surface on which the food is to be prepared is wiped with sanitizing liquid.
We try to cut down on cross contamination by using certain cutting boards for each thing being cut. For example, there is a cutting board for prepared food, meats, vegetables, and other types of raw food. Employees are required to keep their hair tied up, or to use a hair net, and gloves, to keep their hair and skin out of the food they prepare.”
“Those are a lot of rules! But are these rules actually enforced?” I asked, frowning. “I mean, honestly, it’s like a fast food restaurant. How important can cleanliness really be to a bunch of college students, anyway? We’re not the cleanest bunch on earth. What if I was rude to you while I ordered? Would I end up with spit in my burger?”
“Oh no,” Sterling assured me immediately. “These rules of sanitation are quite strict, and heavily enforced by our superiors. There isn’t any saliva in your burger, that’s for sure. And if that is a worry of yours regardless, you could always take it up with the F.A.B.”
“Well,” I asked. “What about raw materials for our meals? Specifically organic foods and or meats? Do we have them?”
Sterling paused thoughtfully before answering this question. “I am unsure if we have organic foods where I work, because Downstairs and Upstairs of South Dining Hall get their food from different places, and I am unsure of where we order our food. However, I do know that these foods are clean and healthy. If you would like to know about where our food comes from, however, I bet those FAB meetings are the best place to find out and make sure the food is of a standard you are comfortable with.”
“Do you think there is some main point that students need to understand about the food in the South Dining Hall?” I asked, wrapping up our interview.
Sterling nodded seriously. “I think the most important thing the student body does not understand is that they need to get involved. Get involved in what you are eating, and pay attention to what you put in your body. Go to the Food Advisory Meetings and talk about what you like and don’t like about campus food. If you don’t do that, it’s not fair to complain about it. Besides that, you could seriously benefit your consumption and the other students’ too.”
For more information on Kutztown’s Campus Dining, visit: