Mozzarella sticks see limited return after petition

Jared Dauman | Contributing Reporter

After a student petition reached over 300 signatures, mozzarella sticks sold out rapidly when they were brought back on a one-night-a-week basis as one of the limited number of fried foods Dining Services is able to serve.

When students returned to campus this fall, they soon discovered that mozzarella sticks had been eliminated from Dining Services locations. While many immediately believed Director of University Nutrition Connie Diekman was the sole reason behind the beloved snack’s disappearance, it turns out the decision was much more complex.

Last November, the University, along with 19 other colleges and universities, joined the Partnership for a Healthier America. The Partnership, which cites First Lady Michelle Obama as its honorary chair, works to bring private, public and non-profit organizations together to fight childhood obesity and help children make healthier life choices.

As a member of the Partnership, the University agreed to adopt a series of commitments that spanned three main areas: food and nutrition, physical activity and movement and programming. One of those, Diekman said, was that the number of fried foods served at each location must be equal to or less than the total number of stations.

This means that, during dinner service at Bear’s Den, Dining Services is allowed to serve between seven and eight fried items across the entire dining hall. The new restriction forced Bon Appetit chefs to decide over the summer how to bring their food offerings in line with the new cap.

“The decision was really based on a lot of different factors. One is obviously the popularity of something,” Campus Executive Chef Patrick McElroy said.

“We really made the decision based upon sales, which students find totally amazing that mozzarella sticks didn’t sell as much as other fried food items,” Diekman added.

Soon after coming back to campus, a group of students led by sophomore Kielah Harbert formed a petition to bring mozzarella sticks back. With the document live for only two days, it received 343 signatures. Since the petition closed on Sept. 11, more than 50 additional community members have asked to sign it.

The petition gained the attention of Student Union Vice President of Administration and junior Mike Holtz, who organized a meeting between Harbert, Diekman and other interested students to discuss the mozzarella stick situation. While no permanent decision has been reached, Harbert believes a compromise is still possible.

“In terms of having however many fried items per station, the mozzarella sticks could replace the onion rings and fried chips, which others have not expressed as much of an interest in,” Harbert said.

Dining Services conveyed the desire to reach a resolution with the petitioners, as long as the goals of the Partnership are met and any decision takes into account the preferences of the thousands of community members they serve.

“I think the other thing, again to reinforce, is that the decision was made based upon…what sells. If students really feel that something else is not as important, and they want to trade one off for it so that we can stay under our goals, we don’t care,” Diekman said.

In the meantime, mozzarella stick lovers can still get their fix on campus, as the fried dish made its reappearance Friday night. While the late-night snack will not be offered every night, it will be available as a special item once a week.

“So stuff like the cheese sticks didn’t go away. We actually have them on certain nights, but we aren’t promoting it heavily because it’s counterproductive to the thing we are trying to accomplish,” McElroy said.

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