Students want healthier food options, cheaper prices

Students paying for food items at the Durham College cafeteria. Photo credit: Jenn Amaro

The cafeteria food service at the Oshawa campus provides some healthy options but students say it’s not enough and it’s too expensive for their wallets.

“The only thing that I find that’s not really convenient is the quality of food we’re getting,” says Durham College student, Dionne Sani, 36, from the Dental Assisting program.

Bhavana Gupta is the director of food services with Aramark, the third-party contracting food provider, for Durham College and Ontario Tech University.

She says she welcomes feedback from students.

“I want them [students and staff] to feel like they’re at home– this is their campus home whether they work here, go to school or live here,” she says. “I want them to feel welcomed and feel like they have a clean, food safe service environment to get whatever food and beverages that they want.”

Because Aramark is a third-party provider, Gupta reports to Beth Smith, executive assistant to the vice-president of Facilities and Ancillary Services. Together, they deal with any concerns that may arise.

Gupta and Smith spend four months in the summer planning the food options with the help of student surveys given each September.

The survey consists of questions about student diet preferences, such as what they eat when they’re not in school.

Aramark also collaborates with other post-secondary institutions to determine what’s popular and tries to bring in as many international foods as possible, Smith adds.

“Health is a big factor that a lot of our customers, whether it would be students, staff, or faculty look to when we dine out, whether it’s at school or at home,” says Gupta.

Gupta says she takes healthy food into consideration when it comes to choices in the cafeteria but wants to ensure there’s the best variety, too. This is a balance of healthy, indulgent, grab-and-go and other options in all their locations to ensure customers have choices.

“When it comes to the franchises, they have their own concepts and standards of what their menus are, so there isn’t room to make changes,” says Gupta.

However, food choice aside, some students also feel on-campus dining is expensive.

“You know how much you can get a slice of pizza for, probably two bucks somewhere, but definitely at school, it’s a lot more overpriced,” says Durham College Student, Naomi Pascual, 21, in the Paralegal program. “The least they could do is make the food more affordable and not to make it more expensive than it has to be.”

Buying one slice of classic pizza on campus costs $3.99, for example, almost 99 cents more than buying one slice of the same pizza off campus.

Gupta explains that the prices are determined by the cost of similar food across the region, including the GTA.

She says prices need to match those at other Aramark locations, but can decrease depending on the change in price of goods and inflation. However, once again, she says Aramark has limited authority over franchises.

“The franchises, they pretty much dictate what the pricing is, and Aramark doesn’t have any say over that,” adds Smith.

Gupta encourages students to take the “Your Voice Counts” five-minute survey about their cafeteria experience. Cards can be found by the cash register and the results are sent directly into Gupta’s email.