Meal or No Meal: Leavening

In the last week since the first edition of “Meal or no Meal” was published in The Oracle, I have been working vigorously in a state of constant procrastination. 

When I first set out to write this series, I thought it would be a piece of cake. My reasoning was this: since SUNY New Paltz is a public university, I assumed that I could answer most of my budget and finance questions online. But I was wrong. I was naive to think that public information would be easily accessible to someone like me: a 20-year-old who still gets anxious when placing food orders on the phone.

But neither my stammer nor my inexperience deterred me. I reminded myself that I was now a fully declared journalism major with a column to write. So I put my imaginary journalism cap on and got to work. On my journey to discover whatever truth there was to find, I spent unhealthy amounts of time formatting emails that never got responded to and became trapped in the unrelenting rabbit hole that is SUNY New Paltz’s financial crisis. 

I learned more about this small school of ours’ finances than I ever wanted to, like the fact that the residence halls were only around half capacity last semester compared to previous ones when they were overcapacity. I guess in the end, this is the true job of a journalist: to find the hard-to-reach facts so you, the public, don’t have to. 

In all my research, I never did find that in-depth look into New Paltz’s dining services that I was looking for. I soon realized that this information is and forever will be blocked from the likes of someone like me, a pubescent reporter who sometimes neglects his precious coveted New York Times subscription. Not even someone like John Oliver could get his hands on this information.

This is because the school’s food services provider Sodexo is a private company. This means that the money students pay for food services goes directly to Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS), a non for profit that provides our school with services such as the book store and food services that contracted out to Sodexo. All the profits CAS makes goes directly back into the school.

I didn’t find the budget information I wanted from the internet or those I’ve talked to. Despite a few false starts, I still did learn some of Sodexo’s big picture reasoning from an email correspondence I had with Kevin Dicey, the general manager of Campus Food Services and catering. 

But before the scandal seekers and conspiracy wranglers ask — no, I sadly didn’t stumble across ironclad evidence that proved Sodexo is only $1,000 of their budget to provide food for the campus population and pocketed the rest. A news story like this would undoubtedly have launched me into some kind of journalistic stardom. 

Instead of something grandiose, Dicey said the biggest reason why the breakfast and lunch were taken off the Peregrine menu for the spring 2021 semester was simply that in the fall, 85% percent of participants to Peregrine’s was in the evening.

Even I, a staunch supporter of breakfast, have to admit that there are times when concessions have to be made during times of financial strains. 

In the Feb. 8 CAS WebEx Board of Directors meeting, executive director Steve Deutsch said that the biggest variable affecting the non for profit is the lack of students living on campus. Currently, around 1,350 students are living on campus, less than most pessimistic estimates campus officials had.

“We’re looking at a loss that will far exceed the $500,000 we were expecting at the beginning of the year per semester,” Deutsch said. 

So yeah, I get it. Sodexo and CAS had to cut back on the food services to avoid even greater financial losses that might tank New Paltz’s dining services altogether.

And maybe I have been overactive and a rabble-rouser. And maybe I have been making too much of a big deal of such trivial matters such as breakfast and lunch. Just a hungry hawk standing on a soapbox in the middle of nowhere, as those who criticize me may suggest.

Incidentally, I ran into Kevin Dicey a couple of weeks when taking the photo for my first column. He was confused as to why I was taking a picture of a closed door. After telling him who I was and the email correspondence we had, he raised some concerns. From the tone of the emails, he got a slight impression that I intended to slander him and the dining services he and many others work hard to provide. But this is and never was my intention. 

Although after coming to terms with my hyperbolic nature, I still feel more can be done about breakfast. I will go into some alternatives I have thought of in a later column. But before I do, the next edition of “Meal or no Meal” will be focused on other students’ thoughts and the students run focus groups that helped influence the direction of SUNY New Paltz’s dining experiences.