(Photo courtesy of: Dunia Seidu) “The dining hall options very every day.”
Six resident students echo past students’ frustrations with the lack of healthy food options and meal variety at the Umass Lowell on-campus dining halls. This has been a hot topic for years, but they are still hoping for more change in the future.
Despite their complaints about the actual food, the freedom of choice and convenience while dining is one of UMass Lowell’s strengths for many resident students.
“I think it’s really convenient,” said Cameron McNally, a first-year computer science student. “You just walk in, swipe, and you just eat until you’re satisfied and you get to leave.”
Students say they also enjoy the social aspect of dining on campus.
“I like seeing people interacting. The dining hall is a really good way to engage with people socially,” said Diana Asamoah, a senior majoring in psychology.
Hayley Lucas, a sophomore psychology major, enjoys how the dining hall presents an accessible opportunity to spend time with others. “[I like] sitting with friends, getting to be a little social and out, because if there’s a day I’m sitting in my room chilling I get to go out,” Lucas said.
In general, students feel that food at UMass Lowell is an overall step up from what they ate in high school. “The food in high school was almost not edible,” said Sephora Leroy, a junior studying psychology. “Even if you were super hungry, it was gross and confusing.”
In high school, Leroy could eat at local chains and restaurants and avoided high school food because of its taste. Comparing the experience more directly to dining at UMass Lowell,
Leroy said, “I feel like the food here is kind of like kind of pre-processed or packaged and I feel like you can kind of taste that when you’re eating it. I kind of expect it to be fresher – not to compare with outside stores….obviously they have to feed a lot of kids.”
For first-year accounting student Melissa Antoine, there needs to be more clarity on what to expect from campus dining from the school. “One thing that is probably unique to me as a freshman is the fact that I didn’t know much about the dining commons and like where I would be, and I would have taken that into consideration if I knew more about dining or I had more access to information about it,” she said. “There are certain things that you know about dining from just going here that you’re not going to find before you go to school here. If I was more informed about what exactly my options were, I would have gone for apartment style housing so I could have the thousand-dollar River Hawk plan, because I either go to the dining hall once a week or not at all for the whole week.”
Indeed, many students consistently expressed disappointment at the school’s lack of change and food options over the years. Mildred Kumah, a fifth-year computer science student, says she expected “everything” to have changed at this point. “Having a [rotating] menu would be nice you know? Maybe even if you’re going to do the same food every week, having different food every day but the same menu every week would make sense,” she said.
Aside from this, some students feel that the dining halls lack foods that encourage healthier eating. “It’s very discouraging to walk into the dining hall to see and be willing to eat only ‘unhealthy’ foods,” Leroy said.
In addition, some believe the healthier options that did exist on campus are no longer available. “I liked the vegan options, but then I feel as time went on they stopped trying…I don’t like eating too much of something that’s gonna weigh me down,” Asamoah said.
Even for first-year students, the food has already started to feel repetitive. “I just need something new. I’m getting a little sick of it halfway through,” McNally said.
For Antoine, the nature of the dining hall meals, combined with the lack of clear information on meal plans pushes first-year students specifically towards spending more River Hawk dollars.
“They’re getting things they think are small, and it’s adding up so quickly here,” she said. “If I as a person who still tried to research my meal plan before getting here was still blindsided by that, imagine everyone else…I don’t know how else they were supposed to act besides to blow through them [River Hawk dollars].”