Challenges & Successes During Covid
As the Food Systems Interns in the Sustainability Office, we have been working to uplift the stories of the folks who bring us our food. We hope to raise awareness about the pressures that Dartmouth Dining is facing, the sacrifices they are making, and inspire more empathy for their challenges and successes during this pandemic.
The folks who work at Dartmouth Dining are experiencing the same lingering uncertainty as students in navigating the evolving pandemic and related restrictions. Just like us, they are burdened with anxieties that come with such uncertainty. When we asked Brandon Crosby, the General Manager at ‘53 Commons, to describe stresses Dining has faced throughout Covid, he responded, “I think most of the trouble with the pandemic has been an emotional toll. There are a few folks who have taken retirement. And most folks have been reassigned. But there’s always that anxiety... We are just trying to be open and honest...it’s natural to have anxiety as we go through this...I have a cooking degree, so I can't necessarily help somebody, but I know how to get them help.”
The Dining staff has sacrificed a lot because they understand that food is foundational to all other aspects of Dartmouth life. Beth DiFrancesco questioned, “What do you think would happen if we had a few cases in Dining and we had to shut down Dining on campus? What would happen if we couldn't feed students? So, we have been so diligent at keeping ourselves safe. So, we need to think about our actions. We have needed to change our behavior and we are constantly thinking about how to keep ourselves safe so that we can stay open.” We are grateful for all that Dining staff does, both at work and in their personal lives, to enable students to experience Dartmouth in-person this year.
The reliance of campus life on the smooth operation of Dining services has led Dining staff to work harder than ever. Looking back on fall term, Jon Plodzik, Director of Dartmouth Dining, said, “There was a lot of pressure that this had to work. I had great belief that it would work... The crazy quarantine period...was the biggest logistical challenge that I have felt in a long time for this program. From thinking about properly staffing the venues to getting things served, to having students’ orders marked and accounted for - we needed to make sure everything fell into place. I remember telling my wife not to expect me for dinner. I was focused like a laser beam.”
Dining has to take precautions when giving out meals during quarantine periods, and around one-third of Dartmouth students have an allergy or food restriction. These parameters have made it difficult for Dining to offer the same meals that have been available in the past. In terms of coordinating meal plans, Elizabeth Rosenberger, Registered Dietitian for Nutritional Issues, reflects, “Fall term was pretty bumpy for us as well. It was really, really hard. And we have learned a lot in the past two terms...about what we need to put on menus, so it is friendly to everyone and there are more options... In fact, I have talked to the executive chef and he is rewriting/writing another menu for Spring term.” Although the rollout of nostalgic menu items may begin slowly, Dining is fighting to put pre-pandemic favorites —such as The Bob at Late Night— back on our plates.
The pandemic has led to massive shortages in supply chains. These issues, compounded by the very real potential of outbreaks on campus, have necessitated increased adaptability in Dining operations. Beth DiFrancesco, the Purchasing Manager at Dining, remembers early on “the scramble there was for everybody to latch on to the supply of meal containers, of disposable utensils and straws and even ketchup packets.” A few weeks ago, there was no yogurt. Beth explained that in our global food system, a disruption in yogurt supply could be due to a delay at a factory that produces the specific ink that a company uses to label the container. She told us that Dining “has learned to get what we need way ahead of time.” For our upcoming quarantine, Dining is going to have to “deliver maybe 3600 breakfasts just over a two-and-a-half-day period. There are only a couple of packaged cereals that are allergen-free. Rice Chex and Cheerios are the two. So, you plan, and you become more flexible.”
Despite the challenges being faced in Dartmouth Dining, positivity has played a crucial role in the team. Each member demonstrates this attitude in their own way, but all of their positivity centers around us, the students. What stood out most in our conversation with Brandon was his jovial character, his enthusiasm for hosting Banana Day at Foco, and his hope to connect with students about their needs. Beth told us, “We love what we’re doing, and we’re trying really hard to keep doing it...We know without our students, we’ve got nothing...There are so many people you get to please in the day and I find that really gratifying.” Jon talks earnestly of his “passion to serve others” underlying his vision to make Dining “one of the great attributes of the Dartmouth experience” and “a special part of [student] life.” Elizabeth loves opportunities to meet students and seeks out “new options, suggestions, and recipes... to get you excited when you come into a dining hall.”
If Dining fails to meet the needs of the college, the college closes. Dining is working tirelessly in the background to avoid this scenario and to support students in this difficult time. In a community, support is not unidirectional. Let’s do our part. Empathy and appreciation from the student body go a long way. By better understanding the obstacles that the people at Dining are encountering and the solutions they are coming up with, we will strengthen our community.