Students ‘disappointed’ with Sodexo and on-campus kosher and halal food options

Randall Dining Commons has offered kosher food for Passover for the past two years, with the food supplied by an outside vendor. Sodexo is working with religious and cultural leaders on campus to bring kosher options to campus year-round. Photo by Gabriella Anderson

Dalia Vered remembers her first year of college. She had a meal plan, as all freshmen are required to. But Vered lost weight and felt like she didn’t have many food options. Why? Like many other students at Chapman who have dietary needs governed by their religion or culture, Vered, the vice president of Chapman Chabad, keeps kosher.

Some religious and cultural groups on Chapman’s campus like Chapman Chabad and the Iranian Student Cultural Organization (ISCO) feel “unsupported” and say they have gone through an “annoying” process when working with Chapman’s food supplier, Sodexo, to cater to their religious and cultural food needs.

Although Chapman’s Randall Dining Commons provided kosher food for students during Passover for the past two years, kosher options are not available consistently on campus, said Eric Cameron, general manager of Chapman’s Sodexo.

“It’s not OK because freshmen have to have a meal plan, myself included. A lot of my friends last year were simply unable to eat at the cafeteria, yet had to pay thousands of dollars a year to eat there,” Vered said. “I felt unsupported by my school community and that we were not being heard.”

Vered is not the only one who feels “unsupported” due to the lack of kosher food options on campus.

“When I found out about that, I was disappointed,” said Madison Magursky, a sophomore music major who is Jewish. “They don’t have food that caters toward what we need. It feels like they don’t really think about us.”

Magursky said that the topic was brought up during a Chabad meeting April 8 and said students are prepared to talk to Sodexo representatives in order for their concerns to be heard.

Sodexo is working with Rabbi Corie Yutkin, the director of Jewish Life at Chapman, to bring kosher food options to Chapman year-round, As Passover approaches, Yutkin and Sodexo are working together to ensure kosher food options for Jewish students on campus. Sodexo will continue provide kosher options from April 19 to 27, as it has done in the past for Passover.

“They have always been willing to work with me,” Yutkin said. “Sodexo is always open to accommodating us and working with us in trying to improve what they can offer to the students.”

Around 400 students identify as Jewish at Chapman, said Jennifer Ruby, a coordinator for the Wallace All Faiths Chapel.

“(Sodexo tries) to be accommodating,” said Spencer Kaseff, president of Chapman Hillel and senior television writing and production major. “They ask us to be understanding that they cook for an entire school and it’s difficult to adjust their kitchen completely to be kosher. And we ask them to understand that some of us can’t eat their food eight days of the year.”

In the past, Sodexo has provided kosher food for Passover from an outside vendor, Lehman Foods-Fresh & Ready.

“They have to purchase (food) from elsewhere because you need a special kitchen to prepare them and we don’t have that kitchen here,” said Gail Stearns, dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel.

ISCO has also tried to work with Sodexo to bring Halal meat, kosher food and classic Persian dishes to its cultural events.

“The process has been lengthy and annoying,” said Sahar Emtiaz, co president of ISCO, who told The Panther that the club has contacted Sodexo up to a month and a half in advance to set up food accommodations. “They are not very on top of it; they don’t really want to say yes or no. They just keep us in the limbo.”

Alex Ballard, student government’s upperclassmen senator, said he has been working with the Muslim Student Association (MSA) to get accomodation for Muslim students during Ramadan, which begins May 5.

Ballard contacted Sodexo March 7 and has not gotten a response yet, he said.

Ballard contacted Sodexo March 7 and has not gotten a response yet, he said.

“This is not a hypothetical issue that needs to be addressed,” Ballard said. “Muslim students will need to be accommodated come May. This is an opportunity for the university to demonstrate its commitment to religious and spiritual diversity.”

“I’m expecting that something will be resolved,” said Hakeem Wakil, president of MSA. “We’ve had a positive relationship with (Sodexo) in the past, so I think that hopefully everything will be OK.”

Cameron said that Sodexo works with Stearns and recognized groups on campus, as well as with students who send him emails and attempt to meet with him. For Cameron, “face-to-face” communication is crucial.

“Our goal would be to sit down and understand exactly what the needs are,” Cameron said. “If there is a Halal-style meat that is needed, we will work with them.”