By Madison Heiser
Photos by Chris Swann
The Tyler Junior College Student Senate conducted a student opinion survey that indicated 65% of student respondents would prefer to see more food options in the Apache Junction cafeteria on campus. This comes after concerns from some students that the cafeteria does not offer enough nutritious options for students with dietary restrictions. For vegans, this means avoiding foods that contain any animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy. For gluten free individuals, this means avoiding foods containing gluten such as wheat, rye and barley, according to the Mayo Clinic.
According to the survey, which had 655 respondents, 30% of students wish to see more gluten free options in the cafeteria. The survey also showed 27% and 21% of students wish to see more vegetarian and vegan options, respectively. Additionally, 25% of students would like more sugar free options available. Around 13% specified other options, while 35% said there are no additional options needed.
Jim Wood, director of food service and Aramark at TJC, discussed Aramark’s response to the issue of having more food options available for students.
“There is no issue,” Wood said. “We provide a diverse range of options by request. We will explore the possibility of creating signage to identify vegan offerings.” Wood said the cafeteria will offer similar signage for gluten free offerings, as well.
According to TJC dining services, there are five meal plan options available for students. The Platinum, Gold, and Silver plans all cost $1,350. These plans include 19, 15 and 10 meals per week, respectively. Each of these plans includes a varying amount of Apache Bux for students to use at restaurants on campus. All residential students at TJC are required to purchase a meal plan. There are two meal plans available for commuter students- a $350 plan that offers 50 meals per semester and a $250 plan that offers 25 meals per semester, plus Apache Bux.
“We’re here for you. We’re here to make your dining experiences as pleasant as possible to give you the options that you want, that you pay for, and to give you good service. The key to being successful with that is feedback. I would love to hear from you guys,” Wood said at a Student Senate meeting on March 30.
Some students feel that creating signage does not completely address the issue of providing more food options to students with specific dietary needs.
“I’ll be honest, I tend to avoid the cafeteria because I find that the options are either homogeneous or just something I don’t like or they are lacking in the nutrition that I feel that I need,” said Gabi Mantecon, a sophomore at TJC.
Mantecon said some options that are offered as vegan or gluten free often include additives such as breading or dairy that prevent students with certain dietary restrictions from consuming them. According to Mantecon, creating signage to identify options is “the bare minimum.”
Brie Cross, a freshman at TJC, said she has difficulty finding food options on campus because she is allergic to both gluten and dairy.
“The current options in the cafeteria are less than desirable,” Cross said. “A student with no dietary restrictions can eat all the food I can, but I can only eat a portion of the food they can.”
Cross said she would prefer the cafeteria have accommodating foods readily available without having to request them every time she visits the cafeteria. She said the cafeteria staff are willing to make gluten and dairy free options upon request, but she does not always have time to wait for them, especially if she needs to grab lunch between classes.
“I do know the ‘Our Menu Commitments’ on TJC Campus Dish are not met- most of them only halfway. If you’re going to say you provide for dietary restrictions and have balanced meals with fresh fruits and vegetables with nutritional information available (and so many other things), then that’s what you need to provide,” Cross said.
Wood said the cafeteria already provides a “range of options” for vegan and gluten free students upon request. For the week of April 19-23, one to three vegan options were available each day, according to the Apache Junction dinner menu at campusdish.com. For example, vegan dinner options on April 19 are roasted potatoes and yellow rice. On April 23, the only vegan dinner option available to students is jasmine rice. There is currently no designation for gluten free foods on the menu.
“Aramark made a perfunctory effort,” Mantecon said. “The more you expand the options, the more accessible it becomes.”
At the March 30 Student Senate meeting, Wood said Aramark plans to implement some focus groups in the fall to identify specific needs among different students such as residential students, commuters and nursing students.
Wood also said he is accessible for any concerns students have regarding dining services at TJC. For questions or concerns, students can reach Wood by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (903) 510-2516. His office is located inside the Apache Junction cafeteria.