Editor’s Note season 2 episode 2: Where’d the food go?

| Senior Multimedia Editor
A graphic with two large blue quotation marks in the center in front of a lime green background. In the upper right hand corner, purple and green letters read "Editor's Note." In the lower left hand corner, purple and green letters read "Season 2 Episode 2 Where'd the Food Go?" and "The Student Life Podcast"

Graphic by Christine Watridge | Student Life

There has been a noticeable change in dining options since the pandemic has started. However, with students back on campus, these changes, along with the nationwide supply shortages, have caused students, especially those with allergies and dietary restrictions, to worry about getting food before dining halls run out. In this week’s episode, Senior Multimedia Editor senior Jaden Satenstein talks with Staff Reporter sophomore Kasey Noss and freshman Amanda Young about these challenges that arise due to the changes in food availability. Theme music by Copy Chief JJ Coley.

You can also listen to this week’s episode of Editor’s Note on Spotify or Apple Music.

JADEN SATEINSTEIN (0:22-1:54): If you ask someone why they chose to come to Washington University, they might just laugh and say, “the food” or “Tempur-Pedic mattresses.” While these are said jokingly, and there’s a multitude of serious reasons people choose WashU, there can be truth to those jokes. The fact that the Princeton Review consistently ranks us among the top schools in the country for food is incredibly appealing to prospective students. 

But that ranking doesn’t mean students don’t face challenges when it comes to finding food options.

I’m Senior Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them. 

Students across campus have noticed a shift from the dining options they knew before COVID. Staff Reporter sophomore Kasey Noss reported that nationwide supply shortages have led dining halls to run out of food long before closing time, making it harder to find those famed meals. 

But Noss wasn’t the only reporter to tackle the topic of dining challenges in this week’s issue of Student Life. Freshman Amanda Young featured the experiences of students with allergies as they navigate meal options. I talked to Noss and Young about the current state of campus dining and how students feel about this year’s food availability.

Noss noted that she began reporting this story after numerous students told Student Life staff members that they’d had trouble finding food on campus.

KASEY NOSS (1:55-2:20) The story basically started because we were hearing a few reports from students, specifically with allergies, who were having trouble in the dining halls. It was sort of unclear, the exact situation. So from there, I just interviewed a bunch of different students, and there seems to be a consensus amongst some of them that they’re struggling to either find options in the dining halls or that they’re getting to certain places and they’ve already run out of food.

JS (2:21-2:33): As she began reporting and speaking to administrators like Associate Director of Dining Operations Andrew Watling, Noss learned that widespread supply chain issues have affected campus food availability.  

KN (2:34-3:02) Kind of across the country, a lot of places are suffering from supply chain issues because COVID interrupted them…it’s making it harder for, say, power plants to find staff. There’s a bunch of little problems along the way that are making it harder for places like WashU to get their full shipments. So, I talked to Andrew Watling, and he basically said that they were struggling with getting shorted on orders or not being able to refill their stock as quickly as they normally would.

JS (3:03-3:24): But stations running out of food isn’t the only challenge students have reported. Those stations are also operating at shorter hours than they had before COVID due to staffing issues. Like dining establishments across the country, WashU Dining Services has not yet attracted as many workers as it needs to maintain pre-COVID hours and menu options. 

KN (3:25-3:51) The running out of food is not caused by the staffing shortages at WashU. They could be caused by staffing shortages elsewhere along the supply chain, but that particular issue isn’t affecting the availability of certain foods at stations that are open. But what it is affecting is the hours that certain stations are running. So he said that there are more limited hours and limited menu items, because there are staffing issues.

JS (3:52-4:35): Luckily, Dining Services expressed that they are doing their best to ensure that special dietary menus and Kosher meals remain well-stocked in the midst of shortages. Still, students with allergies have expressed that the limited options on campus mean that they can rarely stray from the three Top 8 Friendly stations on campus, which launched last year and serve menu items that don’t include the 8 most common food allergens, such as dairy and nuts. 

Freshman Ellie Perlmutter told Noss that she’s felt disappointed by the limited number of items on campus that meet her dietary restrictions. It’s been a significant shift from the wider variety of foods that she had accessible to her back home. 

ELLIE PERLMUTTER (4:35-4:59) When I came, I was honestly concerned, because I thought these were the options. I wasn’t even aware of a shortage. I kind of just vary between a couple things every week that I can eat…I’m usually stuck between like four options. It’s definitely hard in the dining halls, when it’s busy especially, because you don’t want to hold up the line, you don’t want to ask questions.

JS (5:00-5:23): Amanda Young’s piece took a deep dive into the experiences of students like Perlmutter who are trying to find campus dining options that are safe for their allergies. Young is no stranger to dietary restrictions herself. Throughout her life, she’s lived with allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, so managing her diet as a new student has been challenging. 

AMANDA YOUNG (5:24-6:15) A couple of weeks ago I was in the Bear’s Den, and I was kind of running late, and so instead of going to the Top 8 allergy friendly station, I tried to get a salad that was in a deli container from one of the grab-and-go kind of cases, and I think that it had been mislabeled. Instead of being a white bean salad it had, I think, barley and feta cheese in it, and I’m allergic to dairy, so that was just kind of an oversight that had happened. And I did end up having to take Benadryl because I had a minor allergic reaction to that. And so I think that, just when you have so many moving parts and so many things to look out for, and so many people with different dietary restrictions, it can be hard to kind of navigate that for Dining Services, but that’s just something that, as somebody with allergies, I always have to kind of be aware of, and just double check what I’m eating.

JS (6:16-6:22): Young noted that having to be constantly aware and cautious can add a significant layer of stress to the day.

AY (6:23-6:52) One of the students that I talked to, and this is also something that I can speak to personally––is just that eating has to be a pretty planned activity. It can’t just be, ‘Oh, we’re standing by Parkside right now. Why don’t we grab something to eat?’ It has to be something that you kind of think about earlier in the day, and you check the menus online, and you make sure that it’s safe for you to eat. And then also, just kind of the overall heightened anxiety around eating sometimes can be difficult.

JS (6:53-7:05): Still, Young expressed that she’s had an overall positive experience with campus dining so far, and she appreciates that the University’s dieticians encourage students to share their thoughts on dining options. 

AY (7:06-7:35)  For the dietitians, they said they always want to hear from students whenever something is going well or not, just so that they can make sure that they can take steps to support the students. And I think that Bon Appetit and the Dining Services team, they take a pretty personalized approach, especially for students who are outside of what the FDA recognizes as a top 8 allergens, and so communication is key in that regard, because they want to take a very personalized approach and just make sure that they’re meeting the needs of the students to make sure that they’re comfortable.

JS (7:36-7:45): Noss noted that the dining administrators she spoke to said they greatly rely on student feedback in order to know which stations are running out of food. 

KN(7:46-8:28): ​​I think I was surprised to see how little concrete information there was regarding this, because it does feel like something that’s been pretty tangible to me, and it seems like the people around me, the people that I interviewed, have all noticed that things have been a bit off, or that things are running out here and there, they’re having slightly more trouble finding food. So it was interesting for me to talk to Dining Services and see that the issue isn’t so cut and dry. And while there were supply chain issues, which is kind of what I expected, it was interesting to see how much they do rely on this anecdotal evidence from students to see if there’s a problem and how to address it. I thought it would be a lot more straightforward.

JS (8:29-9:08): One way Dining Services is addressing those problems is by expanding storage space. This way, they’ll be able to stock up more on certain items that could face supply shortages in the future. They’re also advertising barista, cook and other dining hall jobs to students through campus flyering and social media campaigns in an attempt to expand their staff. 

Student Life will publish further coverage of this push for new student hires in the coming week, so make sure to stay updated as we continue reporting on this topic. 

And, as always, Editor’s Note will be back next week to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Jaden Satenstein.

Check out more from the Student Life multimedia team:

Student Life staffers show you their favorite campus spots

Editor’s Note season 2 episode 1: International students face difficulties accessing vaccines

Introducing Looking Back: A three-part audio series

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