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UCS discusses food accessibility, plant-based options at town hall

Director of Wellness and Nutrition Jessie Curran answers questions on post-pandemic dining plans, increased vegetarian options, challenges in student dining

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2021

UCS Chair of Campus Life Mina Sarmas ’24 moderated the discussion with Director of Wellness and Nutrition Jessie Curran alongside UCS President Summer Dai ’22.

The Undergraduate Council of Students hosted a town hall with Director of Wellness and Nutrition Jessie Curran at its virtual general body meeting Wednesday. Students were able to submit questions via Google Form prior to the meeting. 

UCS Chair of Campus Life Mina Sarmas ’24 moderated the discussion, which was overseen by UCS President Summer Dai ‘22.

A primary concern expressed by several students at the meeting was the issue of food accessibility that has arisen over the course of the summer semester.

One student-submitted question said that limited summer dining options have caused many students to develop unhealthy eating patterns. In particular, the question noted that the walk to the Sharpe Refectory is far for students living on North Campus, while ordering queues at Andrews often fill up quickly. 

“I empathize with students in this situation,” Curran said, but she noted that “any big changes that would mean something like opening another dining hall (are) unrealistic for the end of this term.” 

Curran explained that Dining Services had to make decisions about which locations to keep open during the summer based on anticipated levels of on-campus engagement, and that “the number of students only justified (having) two locations open.”

Curran also noted that fall dining will be operating “quite differently than it is right now,” and emphasized that many of the current limitations on dining have mostly been imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a Wednesday email from Vice President of Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, mask requirements for fully-vaccinated students have been eliminated in most University indoor and outdoor spaces. As a result, in-person dining and increased dining options that were impossible during prior pandemic semesters or earlier this summer may become available, Curran said.

“This is a big change now that everybody can be in person without masks, so we will certainly be trying to move in the direction of people having a little bit more access to our spaces,” she continued.

As these restrictions are removed, options like pizza stations, grill bars and salad bars will return, Curran said. She hopes students will be “pleasantly surprised” with this increased access once the University opens up fully in the fall, especially those who haven’t yet experienced a normal Brown environment.

Also discussed at the meeting were the limited dining options for vegetarian and vegan members of the University community. Student-submitted questions on this topic reflected a desire for increased plant-based options, particularly through diverse protein sources.

According to Curran, many vegetarian students have reached out to Dining Services in the hope that it will broaden its plant-based protein options beyond just tofu, seitan and tempeh. As a result, she said dining coordinators are looking into introducing more beans, lentils and alternative meats into the dining options.

“We will be absolutely moving in the direction of more plant-based menus,” Curran said of Dining Services’ fall plans. “It might feel like the focus is on meat options, but any time we write menus (we) are conscious of what options are available for vegans and vegetarians.”

Other topics of discussion included the rollover of Flex points and meal plan pricing.

“It requires a lot of approval to change meal plan prices,” Curran said. “Without knowing what the year was going to look like, it didn’t seem to make sense to conduct such a big shift in something like that.”

As for Flex points, Curran agreed that the year’s unique circumstances resulted in limitations on how students could use their points. Nonetheless, she said she “wouldn’t expect” there to be any point rollover opportunities for students. 

The meeting concluded with a call from Curran for students to continue reaching out with suggestions and concerns about dining. 

“We always do best when people give us direct feedback,” she said.

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