(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell)
UMass Lowell dining has historically had its fair share of struggles. After threats to terminate its contract with Aramark erupted in the spring of 2020, the quality of UMass Lowell student dining faded to the background as the school and its students entered quarantines and lockdowns. However, with students now fully invited back to campus, Aramark is potentially in a make-or-break moment with UMass Lowell. And while improvements are abound, Aramark still misses the mark in many regards.
The food is clean, fully cooked and usually does not have any glaring health issues. I have heard a few stories of bugs appearing in food a few times, which is a potential call for concern. However, only so much of this is in Aramark’s control. Massachusetts does have a lot of bugs normally.
The biggest issue that I noticed this semester seems to be stocking, especially during lunch time. Now when I walk in at lunchtime, I expect that the majority of the stations will be completely cleared out, without much ability to find out when food will be back. For students with time to kill this is not an issue, but if you are hurrying from one class to another, the dining hall may not always be a feasible option during lunch. This issue is likely especially frustrating for students with limited meals.
Where this issue manifests particularly poorly is in the vegan selection. There is usually only one selection in the dedicated vegan section per meal, and it has been somewhat rare to see it in stock. This presents a major challenge to vegan students who may need to wait a long time to get their meal offerings.
These issues can be mostly overcome with a little patience, but on a busy college campus, we as students rarely have time to wait. There is usually another class to get to, another club meeting to attend or another study session to make. Needing to play waiting games to be able to eat adds an extra layer of stress onto the student body, especially when the stress from schoolwork is already more than many can handle.
Other less serious issues persist as well. Ice cream machine functionality is still a hit or miss. Drink machines remain perpetually understocked, with the juices being a particularly major example of such. The selection of items is mostly low, with very few rotating specialties offering little variety, though improved slightly from prior years.
We know that the UMass system can do better, especially with UMass Amherst having one of the most acclaimed dining services in the country. If the university is going to continue to require residential students living in the residence halls to get pricey meal plans, then we deserve better food quality and a much stronger in-stock selection and variety. Students have enough to worry about as is, and being able to get a healthy meal with ease on a university-mandated meal plan should not be one of those worries.