It was a cold day and entirely overwhelmed by my complete inability to interact with members of the opposite sex, I had journeyed down to B1 in search of some culinary salvation. The cafeteria was already bustling with hungry tums, and due to a sporadic, but largely unsuccessful, desire to be fiscally responsible I strayed towards the cheaper Chinese station. Except there I was met with an unappealing selection and in a sad homage to my perpetual singledom, I was forced to get a salad.
Like most who frequent the salad bar, I have a system. The logic is clear: achieve maximum tastiness, while gaining maximum product. Brilliantly or bizarrely I once saw someone use sliced bread to extend their bowl outwards to house at least fifteen whole boiled eggs. But my personal tactics are centred more around lettuce, which is pretty disgusting, so I try to mask it with the other stuff. Except there was no rice, pasta or quinoa-like alternative, so the basis of my bowl was flawed from the beginning. The only remedy was the hummus. And remember this was no ordinary day, this was a rather bad one, I may have been about to start my period. I reached for the spoon and dolloped a generous amount in my dish. Only I was met with under seasoning and the distant memories of the once great NYU Shanghai cafeteria hummus. I thought to myself this chickpea catastrophe cannot continue.
But then like angels from the dust, the student-led ‘Cafeteria and Cafe Reform Committee’ popped up on my newsfeed and a soft, salty tear of relief metaphorically slid down my cheek. Because this isn’t about me and my tragedy of a social life, or even about hummus, this is about feeding the many mouths of our institution. This is about quality, nutrition and value. This is important.
Meeting and talking to members of the committee, I was reminded how great our school is and more specifically how incredible the students can be. These people saw there is a problem and instead of whining on about dips and exhibiting some questionable behaviour by the salad bar, they decided to form a committee and do something about it. And boy did they need to.
The motivations for the creation of the Cafeteria and Cafe Reform Committee were varied, but almost directly seem to correspond to the grievances of the student body. Nofar Hamrany, a Sophomore and committee member, cited the lack of options and nutrition as her core motivation, especially the overuse of oil in a lot of the dishes. Another Sophomore and committee member, Sonia Alvarez, was similar, describing an unhappiness with the general taste and quality of the food offered. She noted that, like many other students, she only has 30 minutes available to eat lunch, and thus the cafeteria is her only option. Sonia again mentioned the dishes swimming in oil and that the oily diet had made her feel “nauseous and lethargic” during her Freshman year. Jesse Xu, a fellow committee member, and Freshman, simply said he was not satisfied with the quality. So, as a combined force, it would seem they have got it covered.
The Cafeteria and Cafe Reform Committee hold regular meetings with representatives from Health and Wellness, a representative from Facilities and Jerry from NineMasters (the company in charge of the cafe and cafeteria). The tasks get delegated to separate members of the committee. For example, Nofar is working on the juice, making it different and healthy, Sonia is focusing on pancakes and waffles, hoping to move on to the (extremely questionable) mashed potatoes that they are currently offering. And Jesse is looking at the Halal section, which is often the only section open. As a unit the committee wants to address that damned oil situation and also the low temperatures of the food, but as Sonia said, “those objectives are far from being met.” However, these are large and constant problems and not things that are going to transform magically overnight.
Although small changes are already noticeable. If you hear crunching protruding from the back of Intro to Psychology, it’s most likely me tucking into vegetable sticks. I promise I’m trying to be quiet, but I may have substituted bae for hummus. Additionally apples and peanut butter are also available from the cafe, for the sweeter (and less tragic) tooth. As for the cafeteria itself steamed vegetables and more brown rice have been made available and steps have been made to make the lines more efficient, especially at breakfast when it can get a little peaky down there.
Unfortunately, none of this has been easy. Jesse describes the changes as “trade-offs” between things being good for business and good for students, between price and quality. All the committee members that I spoke to iterated that NineMasters is a business and so they are trying to make a profit. They have monopoly on the food that is sold at the school. As a result, big changes that are going to cost money are less likely to be considered and really the company doesn’t care about whether you enjoy the food, they care about whether you buy it. I would argue that the better the food, the more people are going to want to purchase it, but as mentioned previously, the cafeteria is a lot of the time, people’s only choice, which is a bugger. Jesse though did say “there’s always FamilyMart,” but without a mass revolt and student conversion to (oddly sweet) sandwiches, ice cream, and baozi, there will always be the cafeteria.
However, NineMasters is a contracted company. Sonia suggests that once the contract is over she hopes “the school will strongly consider hiring our own team.” Given a lot of the problems seem to be centred around the cafe and cafeteria being led by an outside company and Jerry not having to respond directly to the student body, but to his bosses at NineMasters, that is an interesting solution. Nofar, Sonia, and Jesse hope that the committee will continue into the future, so we shall see.
As for where things stand right now with the food at NYU Shanghai, changes are being made, slowly but surely. The determination of the committee is clear through the passion in their eyes and the willingness to endlessly discuss the cafe and cafeteria with a random reporter from On Century Avenue. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions be sure to contact a committee member or reply to messages on Facebook and Wechat. Because this chickpea catastrophe shall not continue.
This article was written by Steph Bailey. Please send an email to email@example.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: NYU Shanghai