For years, The University of St.Thomas’ infamous Crooker cafeteria has brought the worst of the worst to the table, sometimes presenting almost inedible food for students, faculty, and guests to eat. UST’s administration and Board of Directors recognize the love-hate relationship students have with Crooker and Aramark specifically, yet haven’t made any concrete changes.
In the past, The Independent has reported on various health code violations Crooker has broken but we haven’t seen many changes in food or sanitation. In August 2019, the University received five Houston Ordinance Violations, which resulted in a citation for the kitchen and catering section of the cafeteria. Since then, the Crooker cafeteria has received other city violations, but no citations. We at the Independent hope to see no citations or violations in the years to come.
The Independent recognizes Aramark’s chefs and workers work hard and are dedicated to their job.We know they probably don’t have any control over the food they are hired to prepare and serve. Students, faculty, and guests appreciate their positivity and helpfulness in sticky (or slimy?) situations, including during two incidents we heard about recently: when a student discovered their chicken nuggets were raw, and when one found scrambled eggs that appeared to be discolored.
Despite all this we at the Independent are calling on UST administration and the Board of Directors to change food services. We believe that changing the dining options at Crooker should be a part of the University’s restructuring efforts, especially because funds have already been allocated to other projects and events around campus. In addition to brainstorming new ideas to attract prospective students to UST such as the Conroe campus, and new associates and nursing degree programs, perhaps healthier, more edible and varied dining options should also be considered.
We know this might be a long shot. When we ran this idea by UST Chair Curtis Huff, he acknowledged that “a lot of people don’t like Aramark,” but said changing food services “is not part of the new restructure.
“I would say from what we’re doing that is outside our scope; that is administration’s job,” he said.
If the administration needs some inspiration, the Independent suggests they take a look at our neighboring institutions of higher education. For example, Houston Baptist University offers its students several dining locations. There is the Baugh residential restaurant, Java City, a coffee establishment, Provisions on Demand Express, which provides “grab n go” sandwiches and quick bites, and even a Chick-Fil-A. Now, although UST has a Subway and Golden Oolong those two establishments are primarily focused on selling two things: coffee and sandwiches. A person can’t eat sandwiches and coffee every day; that is not a good diet for anyone.
The University of Houston, meanwhile, also has a Chick-Fil-A, along with a Starbucks and even a Pizza Hut. Rice University, on the other hand, has in-house chefs who serve in different dining halls across campus, according to their dining services page. The chefs for each dining hall will put out menus weekly, and each hall has different options. Some items on the menu by Chef Roger for the West Servery dining hall for the week of Feb. 3 include vegetable frittata with kale salad and breaded flounder fish with tartar sauce. Dinner options include grilled beef tri tip with pomegranate molasses and eggplant and green bean tomato stew. In comparison, the dining options for Crooker Cafe on Feb. 5 were cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, and caesar salad at “Bene Pizza”; a variety of burgers, sandwiches and fries at “Grilleworks”; and buffalo- style chicken wings, buffalo cauliflower wings, fries, and chilli at “Home Zone,” which claims to give “down-home cooking” a “whole new spin.”
Now, looking at these options students have the choice between fried, fried or more fried. For a University that claims to prioritize student wellness and the healthy celt challenge, it’s sad those are the only options to students. How can a student put their best foot forward in the classroom if their constant fuel is pizza, burgers and fries?
Lastly, as mentioned in a previous Independent editorial, students who live on campus are forced into various meal plans where Guinan Hall residents must spend $1,797 a semester, and Young, Clare and Townhome residents must spend $644 a semester. If the whole meal plan isn’t spent at the end of the fall semester, the leftover money is carried over to the new plan in the spring, often making it more difficult to spend it completely. Then, at the end of every school year, students have no other option but to stand by the register and pay for people’s meals; buy various Aramark-provided snacks and drinks in bulk; or watch their funds go into oblivion.
In the past, some students have had Aramark workers tell them to spend as much money as they can “so the University doesn’t end up with your money.” Maybe that’s false information–all student residents know is that their leftover funds definitely don’t go back to them. Therefore, the Independent asks two more things of the University: publicly explain to students where their unspent meal money goes at the end of the school year and/or create manageable meal plan options for residents, such as allowing residents to put their own specified amount into their meal plans.