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Dining facilities struggle to combat food smuggling


Food smuggling among students has become a growing issue at CSB/SJU dining facilities. | Photo by Michael Terhaar

Some students are leaving Gorecki and the Ref. with more than a full stomach.

“Food smuggling” from Gorecki and the Ref. has long been a source of frustration for staff members of both facilities.

“Food and dishware are leaving the dining center with our guests,” said Director of Culinary Services Kim Poganski. “The way our dining center is set up is that we’re a dine-in facility. Food and dishware being removed increases the expenses. We want to make sure people know they can come in and eat and stay as long as they want, but that we are a dine-in facility similar to many other restaurants—and that when they leave they don’t take food or dishware with them.”

Other area schools such as St. Olaf have taken measures such as not allowing backpacks to enter in hopes of eliminating food smuggling. Other schools have a monitor stationed at the exit – some even utilize both the monitor and backpack ban.

“We’re not interested in taking such measures,” Poganski said. “We want students to be able to come in and study, or work on their computer, and have it be a pleasant atmosphere.”

Since such measures have not been implemented, CSB/SJU has taken other forms of action to attempt to decrease the amount of food and dishware that leaves the facilities. Education and awareness have been the most utilized—the Culinary Task Force Committee conducted an educational survey to determine how many people were actually aware that removing food was against the rules of the meal plan. Orientation leaders and RAs were also talked to in hopes that they could pass along the message to first-years and residents.

“We would rather educate and share with people why the meal plan is the way it is,” Poganski said. “It’s not our preference to implement other measures. We want it to be a really great atmosphere and taking those other measures could make it feel not so pleasant.”

Gorecki also relocated the fruit to the deli area, where previously it was located near the exit.

“We felt like we were sending the message that on the way out students should take fruit,” Poganski said. “We need to be careful that we are not sending mixed messages, so I asked that it be moved by the deli area.”

While leaving with food is frowned upon, Poganski states that staff members do try to be observant of the intent of the customer.

“How we try to monitor it is that if someone grabs something and is in the process of eating it with intent to finish it on the way to class, that’s not problem at all,” Poganski said. “It’s more about when someone is putting something in baggie or Tupperware, or stuffing six apples in a duffel.”

Unlike Gorecki, in the past year the Ref. has allowed students to ask for and fill a to-go box, on the terms that they are only taking one meal’s worth of food.

“On a typical day we probably have 10-20 people,” said SJU Director of Dining Services David Schoenberg. “It’s definitely more popular when the weather is nicer and people can eat outside. It’s a way of carrying food out in a respectful way.”

In addition to smuggling food, there has also been the issue of student cashiers allowing friends into facilities without charging them.

“In other years I’ve had to let a student cashier go here and there for allowing a student to come in for free,” Schoenberg said. “You always have to be conscious about employees, and lots of times have to have systems in place for them too. That’s just the reality of the whole world.”

On the flip side, not all students see the growing issue in the same light.

“I worked at the Reef doing dishes for a semester and after seeing all trays going back loaded with food people couldn’t eat, I think it would be a lot more sustainable if we could take that food home to eat rather than throw it away,” said junior Evan Arko.

The issue of waste also arises when students are forced to return food they intended to carry out.

“Everyone has done it, even if it is just grabbing an apple or slice of pizza on the way to class,” said junior Jillian Andresen. “It is one thing to do that rather than to bring Tupperware and stuff food into it, yet you can get in trouble for both. If you’re walking out the door with it, at that point you’ve already touched the food, and they’re just going to take it and throw it away. It’s a losing situation for them either way.”

Regardless, the issue will continue to be monitored and appropriate measures will be taken.

“If there’s things we can do to help students eat on the run, or enhance the all-you-can-eat idea, we would certainly be open to receiving a note on Facebook or an email,” Schoenberg said. “Just some way we could help without allowing everybody to carry out food on a regular basis.”

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