When I came to Montclair as a freshman I was very excited to start a new chapter in my life. I had some typical fears like the freshman fifteen, but I wasn't really worried about the amount of food options Montclair offered. With where I lived on campus, I was required to get a meal plan. This meant I had to eat the food offered to me by the company Montclair was contracted with. Being a pescatarian, I was a little nervous that my diet would be even more limited and I would only be eating pasta and pizza. But to my surprise Montclair had several different restaurants and food courts all with many different options!
The main buffet style restaurant, Sam’s Place, offered a lot more than just pizza, burgers, and sandwiches. I was able to make huge salads packed with tons of vegetables and the International Station would occasionally have stir fry with tofu as an option. At Freeman, on top of being able to make salads, I was also able to order around ten different quick-made dishes. Inside the Student Center I could eat downstairs at the Rathskeller and get pizza with veggies, premium salads, and some other Italian dishes. Upstairs there was a sandwich station where I could get a sandwich loaded with veggies or tuna, which are some of my go-to sandwiches. I could also get a huge burrito or two tacos filled with tons of different combinations, including tofu. They also had a pretty decent sushi bar. Don't worry, I promise the sushi at school is well made. It's hard to go wrong with the simple rolls that they stick to. In Blanton Hall there was, of course, the Dunkin Donuts, but they also offered my all time favorite place on campus: Guy Fieri’s. Guy Fieri’s offered so many vegetarian options that it was heartwarming. I remember always getting either the veggie burger with a side of garlic fries or the vegetable tacos. There was also a sandwich place that had egg salad as well as a black bean sandwich with barbecue sauce, which was delicious.
Unfortunately, at the end of the school year Montclair’s contract with this company was up, which meant new food places would replace those that currently existed. Montclair decided to go with Chartwells as their new company. I was excited for this change in hopes that the new company would bring in even more vegetarian options. I quickly learned this would not be the case.
The list of food places changed and although the cuisines did not drastically change, the options of food did. However, Sam’s Place and Freeman remained mostly the same. They still offered the same meals but since I was not limited to go to these places, I avoided them as much as I could. In the Student Center, the sandwich deli and sushi bar were kept the same. The Mexican station was switched to California Tortilla and the tofu was gone. The California Tortilla menu took away the build-your-own, Chipotle-like feel and became a more structured menu which only had two vegetarian options.
They also added Panda Express which, for those who don’t know, is an Asian fast food chain. Most of the meals contain some sort of meat, with one option being tofu, all of which go on top of noodles or rice. (Yay, more carbs.)
One of the worst changes was the replacement of Guy Fieri’s with a Chili’s On the Go. With the exception of only about 5 items, every meal on this menu has either chicken or beef. Even all of the salads have chicken! And even though I can make accommodations to remove the meat in a dish, the price remains the same.
I was very frustrated my sophomore year and with a lack of options I started to eat a lot of pizza and pasta. I was trying to make the most of my meal plan, but I was not able to eat the way I actually wanted to.
I wrote the company emails and took the surveys in the Student Center expressing my needs but no new changes have been made. I was upset with the change that Montclair had made affecting my own diet, and wondered how else Montclair became less food inclusive. I’ve only seen two different meals with a sticker that had the word "kosher" printed on it. Very rarely do I see gluten free options and never have I seen food specify if it has possibly been cross contaminated with peanuts or nuts in general.
Do other vegetarians or pescatarians feel the same about the options at Montclair? Do students with allergies have the same issues? And to students who have religious dietary guidelines, do you have trouble eating on campus?
If you answered yes to any of those questions you are not alone! No longer should you think that you are the only one that has a problem with the food offered at Montclair. There are a lot of limits in the options offered that Montclair has not yet opened their eyes to.
It does not have to be that way though. Even since Montclair made the change I have seen Chartwells offer more meal options. In my freshman and sophomore year I never saw gluten free, kosher, or options for other dietary restrictions. Now as a senior I am starting to see more choices, but nearly enough to feed the growing community.
Montclair dining and Chartwells are willing to change. On their page they even list what changes have been made. However, this is only after people submit surveys. I’m encouraging you to speak up. Whether you want more pescatarian options like me, need more gluten free options, or just want your favorite meal fill out the surveys straight from their website. If that's not enough, Chartwells will occasionally set up tables where you can take their survey on an iPad. And if you want to take it a step further, you can email Montclair dining service representatives directly. Everyone deserves to have more than just three or four options of items to eat on campus.
And I urge Montclair dining (if they're reading) to open your eyes to all the different dietary needs your students have, listen to when we speak and give us more options than just a packaged sandwich.