​Earning our dining rank

With Grace’s Café set to close at the end of the semester due to expensive kitchen renovation costs, Duke Dining and the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee again enter student conversations. We are asked to say farewell to a beloved Duke eatery, further limiting on-campus options for students attempting to manage culinary wants and healthy habits. Though this summer’s full opening of the West Union promises relief for West Campus, we take this moment to evaluate dining at Duke and a typical student’s eating experience.

Having nutritious options available continues to be a primary concern for students reliant on campus meal plans. While Dining does provide substantial information online, students continue to underutilize or fail to know about the information. This and other resources like University nutritionist services should be better promoted or visibly published. Faced with McDonald’s, The Loop and Panda Express as three of the four main eateries in the Bryan Center, nutritional advice on the “healthiest option” at these establishments is imperative. Where more generally healthy options do exist—the salad bar in Penn Pavilion and many of the Divinity Café’s offerings for example—the choices available to students can be prohibitively costly. Pre-prepared salads at Saladelia in Perkins go for nearly ten dollars, and students are frequently forced to consider the merits of three meals a day against the literal cost of eating cheap.

Apart from health, the diversity of choices is important to both our graduate and undergraduate communities. We have to recognize our high international population and domestic diversity of ethnic background and ask that they be reflected in our options. In the case of Grace’s, the student response has been clear that the authentic Chinese food they provided will be sorely missed and hard to replace and highlights student demand for international cuisine.

We do credit Merchants-on-Points with expanding food offerings and diversity without actually incurring the space costs of bringing vendors to campus. However as we have written before and as Chronicle opinion columnist Bron Maher does well to point out, Duke Dining takes large upfront fees and profit cuts from off-campus food vendors to offset losses for on-campus eateries. This increases already expensive prices and the financial burden on students. Exorbitant rates ironically decrease the accessibility of this increased range of options resulting in cost-savvy students to stick to food sold on campus.

But a gorilla remains in the room. Central Campus houses hundreds of sophomore, junior and senior students, and while there is an expectation that those students do more of their own cooking, reducing the Central options to one eatery is absurd. If meal plans are going to be required of students for three years—which contributes to the cost that leads students to pursue off-campus housing—the dining options, including on Central Campus, must be expanded.

The renovation and opening of West Union promises change for campus, and we are hopeful to see a marked increase in convenience and options for students. Those students who seek culturally diverse foods from MOP may soon be able to find them on West in Tandoor, Ginger + Soy, Gyotaku and others. Students should eagerly anticipate the new eateries with West Union but be cognizant of and vocal about any persisting health, cost and locational problems with Duke Dining.


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