Photo illustration by Samantha Miller
Is it a horror movie, or Pepperdine’s dining services?
The correct answer is both.
Pepperdine students are graced with overcrowded locations, expensive pricing, confusing labels and limited options when trying to satisfy a basic human need: food.
The issue begins and ends with Sodexo, the University’s longtime food service provider. Pepperdine’s contract with Sodexo was slated to end in 2020, but the pandemic delayed the selection of a new provider. The interim contract will end spring 2022 when the University will take up the Request for Proposal process yet again.
Sodexo deserves credit for adapting to county COVID-19 guidelines and helping Pepperdine navigate the pandemic, but make no mistake — when Dining Services considers signing a new long-term contract with Sodexo in the spring or choosing a new provider, the resounding opinion of the student body is clear — Sodexo needs to go.
New Developments are Failing
Sodexo partnered with Grubhub as a way to “cut down on lines,” a great idea with terrible execution. Waves Cafe only lists its featured options of-the-day, leaving out grab-and-go alternatives including sandwiches, sushi or burgers — the most consistent and reliable choices.
Some cafeterias have meal options listed that they don’t actually serve. For example, the HAWC has an Impossible Burger listed on Grubhub, but apparently when students reach the register, no Impossible Burger exists.
Locations are posted as closed even during open hours. As of late, Starbucks — one of the longest lines on campus to jump — Grubhub posts the majority of menu items as sold out, meaning students who aren’t in the mood for juice, milk or yogurt are out of luck.
Food trucks on campus are another new development to ease traffic in main dining spaces. While supporting local small businesses is admirable and the food from the trucks is usually tasty, these trucks are not sustainable or permanent solutions.
Let’s face it — food trucks are unhealthy, expensive and not designed to handle hundreds of hungry students at once.
Existing Options Suffer from Understaffing
Perhaps Dining Services should focus on bettering the existing dining spaces rather than testing innovative yet ineffective new strategies. For example, why are the hours at Oasis Pizzeria so limited? Why are the options in the Caf as restricted as ever?
Returning students will remember Oasis was open until 11 p.m., in the past, which helped ease lunch and dinnertime traffic in the Waves Cafe and late-night traffic in the HAWC — but that was also when Oasis served personalized pizzas.
The Caf formerly offered personalized sandwiches, a larger salad bar, more breakfast options and a kiosk ordering system for all three meals.
The pandemic seems to be a great time to utilize the kiosk ordering at the Grill, so each customer’s food could be sold separately. Instead, students crowd around a small condiments area to add tomatoes and other toppings to their prepackaged burgers.
The answer to these questions regarding limited options is simple: Sodexo has not adequately staffed the dining locations on campus. Students cannot blame Starbucks employees or cafeteria workers for the long lines or turning off the GrubHub service — there are just not enough staff.
Bills, Bills, Bills
When students decide to purchase meal points through Housing and Residence Life, they have the option to check the meal plan rates and see which meal point option works best for them. At the very bottom of the page, above summer rates, is an interesting sentence of fine print.
“Estimates are based on seven to eight points per meal,” according to the HRL website.
Now, if you question what sustenance at Pepperdine is seven to eight points and doesn’t come in a cup with a green mermaid, you wouldn’t be alone. The average Caf meal, without dietary restrictions, costs $8.99 — before the surcharge for takeaway plates and tax. The more sustainable green box also costs extra. Forget about the food trucks — they average about $12 to $15 per meal, which is double what HRL’s estimate is.
Staying on budget is a difficult task for students, which can cause anxiety since the product is food — a basic necessity. The anxiety is heightened for resident students who are required to purchase meal plans and do not have cars to go off-campus to offset some of these high costs.
And yes, off-campus does mean Malibu. If you already find the Waves Cafe prices shocking, you’ll be even more surprised when you find out Malibu Whole Foods has cheaper options than the university cafeteria.
Try the $3 vegan grilled cheese. It’s fantastic.
Dietary Restrictions Shouldn’t Be This Restricting
Speaking of veganism, Pepperdine lacks options for students with dietary restrictions. This has been a longtime gripe with Sodexo’s service, and it has worsened since students returned to campus.
A vegetarian or vegan dish shouldn’t be the non-vegan dish minus the protein.
Kosher and Halal options are also virtually nonexistent.
Dining locations such as the HAWC have virtually no options for vegans or vegetarians that contain protein, which makes it difficult for students whose classes or work schedules create the need for late-night dinners to find healthy vegetarian and vegan options.
Food Needs Labels
Our final question for Sodexo is this: What is the TNT roll?
There are about five different sushi rolls served on campus, all listed as TNT. One TNT roll has tuna on top, others have onion crunchies, some have both and all have the same price, name and list of ingredients.
To make matters worse, the OBX roll — short for Outer Banks, an Atlantic coast region and popular Netflix series— is there, looking the exact same as the TNT roll and yet inexplicably $4 cheaper. Not only is this inconvenient to the average consumer, but it is also dangerous to people with severe allergies whose lives depend on knowing exactly what ingredients are in each meal.
Pull the Plug, Pepperdine
Student-athletes struggle to find healthy options to maintain high energy levels. Dietary-restricted customers are scrambling to get enough nutrients. Many students have food insecurity due to high prices, long lines and misleading labels. Some barely eat at all. The locations are understaffed and employees appear stressed.
A drastic change is necessary, and the University can make one in the spring of 2022.
Get rid of Sodexo.
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