Sodexo is the hot topic this year at the University of Maine. From the food changes in the dining halls to the rising prices of retail dining on campus, every student resident and commuter has taken notice. Going from a nonprofit school-run dining program to a for-profit company would be a hard adjustment for any university. However, other schools in the state have worked with Sodexo for years. Is UMaine different? If so, in what ways?
UMaine Machias has distinct differences from the other universities in the University of Maine System (UMS). Machias has existed as a satellite campus since its acquisition in 2016. However, the two universities had separate dining programs until UMS entered into a contract with Sodexo before this academic year. Before students in Orono were exposed to for-profit dining, Machias students had already been served by Sodexo dating back to 2017.
The transition to Sodexo has been rough, which is bewildering given Sodexo’s established relationship with other universities in Maine’s system. Students have been left wondering the reason for the new dining provider’s bumpy transition. There is virtually no answer to that question, and students at Orono and Machias are subsequently left to deal with a subpar dining experience.
Students who preferred to remain anonymous shared a recent story regarding the food quality at UMaine Machias. “So, yesterday, Feb. 1, 2024, I was eating lunch. I got the international special, which was a pesto pasta. As I was eating, I bit down on something flat and solid. Believing it to be a piece of uncooked pasta, I took it out of my mouth. What I found was a shard of acrylic plastic, a millimeter thick and a tad larger than my pinky. It was a right triangle and had sharp edges, but thankfully, no harm was done. I reported it to the Sodexo office, and the grill and international were suspended for the rest of the day,” said the student.
While that is an extreme example, similar problems often occur between the two campuses, such as a lack of quality in the food being served. It’s not uncommon for students to open social media and see photos of undercooked chicken or other instances of poor dining experiences regarding the food. Although these issues aren’t new at Machias, the students at Orono have recently voiced complaints, leading to the question of why UMaine would expand a program with known long-term food quality issues. Although these issues aren’t new at Machias, the students at Orono have recently voiced complaints. We have to wonder, why would UMaine expand a program with long-term food quality issues?
Typically, decisions are rarely made in the student’s favor in our unified university system. Budget cuts are continually being made, with executives suggesting that students dissatisfied with dining can get better food at another campus. However, as a unified group of student bodies, we can affect change. If students mobilize as a collective, we can advocate for each other. If students across the university collaborate on the issue, we will begin to see change. Just recently, Sodexo took away fruit during lunch and dinner. Students, rather quickly, started an email campaign with the dining hall managers. In just a few days, fruit returned during lunch and dinner at Hilltop and York. This inspires hope in the change a united systemwide student body could make.