A lot of aspects of the college experience look very different this year. Colleges and universities all over the country have been forced to take drastic measures to protect their students and the communities around them from the spread of COVID-19. Often, this means cutting back on key aspects of college life: in-person classes, dormitory style living, clubs and sports. For some schools, this list of important aspects may not include the dining experience, but at the University of Massachusetts this is held at a precedence unlike any other.
Not only has UMass Dining held the No. 1 spot in the country for the last five years by the Princeton Review, they continue to uphold their title during a global pandemic. UMass has always been applauded for its healthy and sustainable choices, wide range of options including those for vegans or vegetarians and general student satisfaction. As the largest collegiate dining program in the country, with a wide range of operating hours, UMass has more to offer than most other schools. The school also hosts fun promotional events in many of the dining halls during different times of the year, giving out free food and even merchandise at times. How many other students can remember eating dinner on Chinese New Year as a dragon performed a lion dance just 50 feet away, or sitting down for a dinner of lobster and steak on Halloween each year? I won’t pretend like UMass Dining is perfect; we’ve all had a piece of dry chicken breast from Berk or walked in circles for a half an hour before finding a seat on an overcrowded night. However, the overall service and quality of UMass Dining is highly superior to any other school, and proves they are completely deserving of their title.
Due to the pandemic, even UMass has been forced to cut back on their dining programs and offerings. Only one dining hall, Franklin, is open to accommodate a reduced student population. Blue Wall and BabyBerk, a food truck, is also open. Even at the dining hall there are reduced options in variety, as well as hours of operation. Late night is offered at Frank a few days out of the week instead of every night as before. Students can either take food to go or eat in the dining hall. Face coverings are required except when eating, and social distancing should be maintained at all times as well.
Despite the restrictions placed upon UMass Dining, they have shown to be more than capable of providing a quality dining experience for the students that are on campus. The quality of the food is the same as it always has been, and many of the key features of UMass dining are still a part of the new pandemic experience. Students can still choose from a solid variety of vegetarian and vegan options, and custom stir fry, omelets and paninis are still offered at Frank. The options at Blue Wall are unchanged, despite slightly different hours. UMass Dining has not even stopped offering promotional events and special offers during this time. Just yesterday, I got to try a new vegan burger for the chance to win Apple AirPods! Even with a reduced staff and strict COVID restrictions, UMass Dining has a commitment to its students to provide amazing food and service that tops any other school.
Many other schools do not hold the same commitment to their students. At New York University, horror stories have surfaced describing vegetarian students receiving meat in their to-go bags, or gluten-free students receiving sandwiches for lunch. For students without dietary restrictions, the meals provided are just simply horrible, such as serving a lemon as a side dish or delivering just a cookie and chips for “breakfast.” Other students have even stated that they had not received food delivered to them in days. In stark contrast, a student I know was put into isolation in the UMass Hotel at the beginning of quarantine as a strictly precautionary measure as she was not feeling well, and she said she was given 4 meals a day, one of which was dessert. These meals all met the standards that UMass Dining upholds in all of their dining operations. UMass students who are on campus should be grateful for the quality experience that UMass dining is providing, and their commitment to upholding healthy and sustainable food for everyone.
Alanna Joachim can be reached at [email protected]