Replacing dollars with pounds

While food prices on campus have gone up and Community Advisors (CAs) have had new limitations placed on their meal plans, high levels of calories and fat in dining hall food have led to rumors that shortening is being added to some food items in an attempt to suppress students’ appetites, a claim that Sodexho representatives say is untrue.

“There’s only one thing in the kitchen labeled ‘shortening’ and it’s a soybean oil. It’s a trans-fat-free oil that’s only used in the deep fryers,” John Higgins, general manager of Dining Services, said.

Because soybean oil is cholesterol-free, its use in the fryers reduces the amount of hydrogenated fat in a number of fried foods served in the dining hall.

However, Steve Hugg, director of Marketing and Business Development for Sodexho, said that the kitchen staff uses another kind of shortening when cooking bakery items, “if the recipe calls for it.”

As for the claim that shortening could be added to food in order to make it denser – which would supposedly lead students to want to eat less – Higgins said it is not possible.

“I’ve been in the food industry since I was 15 and I have never seen that happen. Never,” he said.

Rebecca Berman, a registered dietitian who serves as a spokeswoman for Sodexho, said that the high levels of calories and fat seen in Sodexho food when compared with levels of similar items at fast food restaurants are a reflection of the degree of variation in how each company measures the nutritional value of their foods.

For the purposes of this story, The Signal calculated the differences between Sodexho food and fast food. We compared Soexho with other companies by converting, for example, 2.6 ounces of Sodexho fries to three ounces of McDonald’s fries in order to ensure the serving sizes were equal.

Berman said the variation is why the nutritional information card for a six-ounce serving of macaroni and cheese at Eickhoff Hall shows it has 510 calories and 30 grams of fat. In comparison, six ounces of Kentucy Fried Chicken (KFC) macaroni and cheese has 225 calories and 10 grams of fat.

“What you’re seeing is really an estimate. The database we use to get our nutritional data is not the same as the one that a fast food place is going to use,” Berman said.

She said that the differences between calorie and fat levels posted in Eickhoff for pizza, french fries and macaroni and cheese and those listed on the Web sites of Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s and KFC for similar items of the same weight were not large enough to be considered “significant.”

However, Kimberly Altman, a registered dietitian who teaches a nutrition course in the College’s School of Nursing, disagrees.

“It is a big deal if you’re eating this stuff every day,” she said. “Those 200 extra calories a day can cause you to gain weight.”

Berman added that Sodexho does not encourage college students to eat at fast food restaurants, as they do not offer the kinds of healthy alternative meals that can be found in campus dining halls.

When questioned as to why a cheeseburger in Eickhoff was listed as containing 180 more calories and 20 grams more fat than a McDonald’s cheeseburger, Berman said that McDonald’s uses an ounce less meat in their hamburger patties.

The weight of the cheeseburgers in Eickhoff was not listed on their nutritional information card. As of press time, the nutritional information cards for hamburgers and cheeseburgers were no longer posted in Eickhoff.

While the nutritional information posted in fast food restaurants is monitored by the FDA for accuracy, the postings at campus dining halls are not.

Instead, the nutritional content of food served in the College’s dining halls is monitored by the office of Auxiliary Services. “The College has the right to inspect all dining locations at any time we deem appropriate to ensure that expectations are being met with respect to nutrition, sanitation, customer service, et cetera,” Karen Roth, director of Auxiliary Services, said.

According to Roth, these expectations for quality are outlined in the College’s contract with Sodexho, which was last renegotiated in June 2005.

As of press time, Roth could not provide a copy of the contract to The Signal. According to Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, “I have been told that the contract contains financial information about Sodexho, and we are uncertain if we are allowed by law to release that information.”

Prices for meals in Eickhoff have gone up 25 cents since the Spring semester of 2006. Breakfast now costs $4 per person, lunch costs $6 and dinner costs $7.

Prices on A La Carte items in Brower Student Center and the Travers/Wolfe dining hall have also increased from last semester.

Hugg said there are a number of reasons why prices have increased. “During the summer, we review our retail product mix and prices and make increases as necessary to meet our budget,” he said. “We get delivery surcharges, gas prices have gone up since Katrina and, as a result, food prices have gone up. These things contribute to our costs.”

Price increases in the student center and the Travers/Wolfe dining hall vary by item. Hamburgers are up 19 cents each and cheeseburgers are up 20 cents, bringing their prices to $2.75 and $2.99, respectively. An order of french fries is now $1.89, a 10-cent increase.

“We are required by the College to be generally competitive with similar locations in the community, but it’s certainly possible that we will be higher on some items than on others,” Hugg said.

However, Hugg said that Sodexho made sure to match prices in the library caf? to prices at Starbucks, and that soda and coffee prices in the Travers/Wolfe dining hall and in the student center are below average.

This year, all CAs were given the lowest A La Carte meal plan and were restricted from using their meal plan points in the Marketplace Convenience Store.

The decision to change regulations regarding CA meal plans was made as part of an effort to cut costs at the College this year in light of state budget cuts to higher education.

“We’re trying to be more fiscally responsible,” Sean Stallings, associate director of Residential and Community Development, said.

Despite the change to their meal plans, Stallings said that CAs can still increase their spending power at on-campus vendors by transferring money into their GetIt Card accounts.

Unlike their meal plan points, CAs would be able to spend money in their GetIt Card accounts on goods in the Marketplace Convenience Store.

According to Golden, the restriction on the CAs’ abilities to purchase items in the Marketplace Convenience Store was implemented in order to prevent a violation of the Residential and Community Development policy regarding staff meal plans.

“Purchasing packaged foods from the C-Store would not allow the staff to continue the work of creating community, nor to be active participants in the campus dining program,” Golden said.

According to Stallings, CAs were informed about these changes before the beginning of this semester.