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Notre Dame Food Services introduces changes

| Tuesday, September 8, 2015

FoodServicesUpdateEric Richelsen

Notre Dame Food Services (NDFS) implemented many changes to start the year, including the adoption of new policies that work towards making food services on campus more health-conscious, as well as increasing overall campus sustainability efforts.

Chris Abayasinghe, director of NDFS, said plans for this year’s changes began with evaluations performed at the end of last semester.

“Annually, we review how our students are utilizing the meal plan, the popularity of menu offerings, hours of operation, and make changes,” Abayasinghe said in an email. “This year, we increased our commitments to sustainable foods, made available a new meal plan offering in collaboration with our partners in athletics and sought to institute practices to divert trash from the landfill. Additionally, we increased the amount of Flex dollars available for use at our on campus restaurants.”

Abayasinghe said that preparations for implementing the changes involved cooperation of efforts between multiple departments, all ultimately aimed towards both increasing campus sustainability efforts as well as benefiting local businesses. The changes will affect on-campus eateries as well as North Dining Hall (NDH) and South Dining Hall (SDH)

“The changes with reusable bags at Grab ’n Go were the result of working with the Office of Sustainability and student senate. This included surveying the student body last semester and running an awareness campaign to help educate how many bags were discarded annually. Linda Kurtos, my colleague in the Office of Sustainability, along with her staff, assisted my team on campaign roll out and survey data review. By doing so, we were able to shift our spending to support Prairie Farms — a cooperative that sources its milk from local Indiana family farms.”

At the center of changes to food services this year is the Green Plan, which, according to Abayasinghe, is “aimed at filling a gap in service flexibility.” Under the Green Plan, which combines “a component of on-campus and off-campus spending” and does not replace any previous plans, $315 in Domer Dollars and $315 in Flex Points are placed on the participating student’s ID card. The student is allotted up to 14 dining hall meals per week, and as with the defaulted Gold Plan, unused Flex Points will carry over from first semester to second semester, and expire at the end of the school year in May.

According to the Notre Dame Food Services website, students may request to use the Green Plan in place of the Gold Plan by submitting an email via their student email account to [email protected] within the first two weeks of each semester. In the email, the participating student should write ‘Change to Green Plan’ in the subject line, and include with your name and ndID ‘90’ number in the body of the email. The cost to upgrade to the Green Plan is $242.50 per semester, which will be charged to the student’s student account.

Both dining halls and campus retail locations have updated menus, Abayasinghe said.

“As an example, at Au Bon Pain, we now feature antibiotic-free meats and feature local produce (when seasonally available) in addition to prominently displaying caloric info on the menu signs,” he said, “At Decio, our chefs have increased the availability of vegetarian and vegan menu entrees.”

“The dining halls routinely evaluate the popularity of the weekly menu cycles and adjust as needed. This week, we are bringing in Celebrity Chef Jehangir Mehta to host theme dinner events at NDH and SDH and train our staff in more plant forward food menu-writing and preparation techniques.”

At Grab ’n Go, gluten-free sandwiches are being offered daily for the first time, and disposable brown paper bags have now been replaced by reusable bags which may be purchased at the Grab ’n Go desk or at the Huddle for $1.20. Cash, Flex Points and Domer Dollars are all accepted forms of payment.

According to the Food Services website, Styrofoam cups will also no longer be available in the dining halls in an additional effort towards raising sustainability.

Student reactions to the changes have generally been positive.

“At [Au Bon Pain] I really enjoy the fact that they put the calorie counts on their sandwiches just so you know how healthy everything is and exactly how many calories you’re getting,” sophomore Stephanie Mellert said. “In New York they have a similar policy and it just really helps people eat a lot healthier and make better life decisions.”

One negative reaction, however, has been to Grab ’n Go’s implementation of reusable bags, which some students believe will not realistically be purchased and used.

“In terms of Grab ’n Go, I like the whole idea that they’re trying to go green and save paper, but at the same time I don’t think it’s realistic that students are going to pay for a bag when they have a backpack,” sophomore Brigid Walsh said. “So mostly people, at least from what I’ve seen, kind of carry the food in their arms and sometimes depending on what you get that can be a little bit difficult.”

Abayasinghe said NDFS has more changes planned for the year but will also be reassessing and possibly adjusting already-implemented changes based on student feedback.

“We are looking at launching a composting pilot program and other waste diversion measures this year,” he said.

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About Andrea Vale

Andrea Vale is a freshman at Notre Dame who has previously written for both the Sun Chronicle and the Huffington Post. She plans to major in English with a Creative Writing concentration and a minor in Journalism.

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