Orange Coast College students and staff with dietary restrictions have expressed frustration with the cafeteria’s prices and lack of options. Some of these concerns will likely be addressed when the campus is more fully opened in the spring semester.
Student Katherine Smith, who has Celiac’s disease, and Music Department Chair Eliza Rubenstein, who is vegan, both said that the cafeteria stopped offering many of its fresh, produce-based snacks, options that were both plant-based and gluten-free.
“The first several weeks of the semester, there were several terrific vegan grab-and-go items available, and I made regular visits for lunch,” Rubenstein said. “Gradually, though, the vegan options began to disappear, until finally I was told that they were no longer being offered.”
According to General Manager of OCC Instructional Food Service Thomas Selzer, not enough people bought the grab-and-go products to justify providing the option.
“We couldn’t meet the minimum amount of orders,” he said.
Selzer said that OCC Food Service wants to provide those snacks again when students return to campus next semester, but there is still a need for vegan and gluten-free food this fall.
“Vegans still need to eat, and we can’t buy what isn’t there,” Rubenstein said. “More people will eat vegetarian food if more vegetarian food is available.”
Smith explained that even though OCC is not fully open, there are still a lot of students who visit the cafeteria.
“There are a lot of people coming here [to the cafeteria] because there are classes here two to three days a week,” Smith said. “There are other students who work here on campus or who live at Harbour housing and are here all the time.”
Selzer emphasized that the spring semester and the influx of students on campus should allow the cafeteria to offer more options.
“We are less than 20% on campus,” he said. “We just need more students coming in so we can offer more and more products.”
Currently, the cafeteria offers vegan and gluten-free options at the pizza and grill stations. Selzer said that a wok station will be coming in the spring, which will have plant-based protein and gluten-free rice noodles.
However, Smith and Rubenstein both said that some of these hot food options are expensive, and that can be inconvenient if a student is on a school meal plan. Smith explained that it is difficult for her to find enough gluten-free food while on a budget.
“If you have a meal card and you try to get that stuff, you can’t get a whole meal out of it,” she said. “Everything gluten-free costs extra.”
Selzer said that Food Service at OCC wants to bring new and especially affordable options to the cafeteria.
“We do what we can,” he said. “We’ll add items back in the spring when we hopefully have more demand.”
Selzer also said that the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports being backed up has contributed to limited options.
“Just to get our regular orders in is quite difficult,” he said.
Smith said that especially with limited options, cafeteria workers and customers need to be familiar with all the choices so that no one’s health is at risk.
“It’s important for people to realize that they need to be educated and educate their employees so that they don’t have bad things happen to people,” she said.
As OCC navigates the return to campus, it will take some time to figure out what students and staff need from the cafeteria.
“None of this is a criticism of the OCC food service staff, who have challenging jobs that they do very well,” Rubenstein said. “I hope that especially in the spring, as the campus population returns to normal, we’ll see plenty of options for the ‘weird eaters’ of the OCC community.”