Forstater: Ambler food desert a tasteless situation

With minimal dining options, students struggle to bring a food truck to Ambler Campus as a new option.

Toby Forstater

Toby ForstaterA venture onto Ambler Campus is to resign to an empty stomach. On Main Campus, there is food offered at Fresh Bytes, the Student Center, Johnson & Hardwick cafeteria and Morgan Hall, not to mention the numerous food trucks and stores on and off campus.

Some students who care about nutritional and environmentally-friendly sustenance are trying to change the Ambler predicament.

“In 1911, Temple Ambler was previously the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women,” said co-chair of Ambler Campus Office of Sustainability Robert Kuper. “Now, it’s a food desert. Coincidence or irony? This is why a co-op would not only allow students to eat right on campus again, but it would also tie back to the history.”

Previously, Ambler housed students who had meal plans. However, in Fall 2010, the dorms closed – along with the dining center. The only eatery left was a Fresh Bytes in Bright Hall, which offered sandwiches and snacks, but even that has been shut down for an IT expansion project.

Now, a café in the Learning Center is open for part of the day, offering à la carte items. There is a rotating menu offering one gluten-free special every day.

Because of this, many students said they either pack their lunch or don’t eat. They can drive off campus and buy food at local businesses, but a seven-minute drive each way and the time it takes to make the food is too much for those with busy schedules or no car.

In lieu of this, concerns for more options were mentioned to Kuper and fellow co-chair Anne Brennan.

“Overall, the students seem to be very upset,” Kuper said. “This is a sensitive issue and an issue that has been brought to the attention of the Ambler Campus Office of Sustainability so we can get more food on [Ambler’s] campus, but also improve its quality on campus.”

There is talk of reopening a section of the now-vacant dining hall, but Temple is under a contract with Sodexo and cannot open other food services on its campuses.

Students contacted an independent food truck, hoping to encourage it to come to a local park near Ambler Campus. Unfortunately, students would still have to walk down a major road without a sidewalk just to reach it. Students said they are even resorting to asking Sodexo to provide a food truck, in hopes of avoiding the limits of the legal constraints.

“This is a very real concern and feedback is very important,” Sodexo Marketing Manager Nate Quinn said. “We really want to accommodate students in any way possible. Our job is to serve students so they can do better in school.”

Quinn said Sodexo aims to improve the quality of its food options overall.

“We are trying to work on organic and local options,” Quinn said. “This has suddenly come into high popularity, and we are very proud to do that before Fresh Grocer and others while making sure the organic options are satisfying but affordable.”

However, even on Main Campus it is tough to find sustainable food options. There is one organic shop in Morgan Hall, but options in dining halls leave a lot to be desired. Students should even use caution in judging the legitimacy of “local and organic” trucks – some could be using a faulty advertising scheme called “greenwashing” to lure customers. For example, besides the sign for local coffee, many customers are left to wonder what green options there actually are at trucks like Sexy Green Truck, which bases part of its appeal on being organic.

7-Eleven offers a local, organic and vegan sandwich. If a Philadelphia convenience store can manage that, why can’t Temple provide similar dining options at all its campuses?

“I would hazard to guess our school attracts people who love environmental sustainability,” Brennan said of the Ambler Campus. “We have a significant number of students and staff that place a priority on a vegan and organic diet. The irony is that you would think the campus would be the hub of that, but it’s actually the opposite because of these various factors.”

Many students don’t feel their issues are being dealt with quickly enough, nor their desires being addressed. Kuper and Brennan agreed Sodexo should be required to provide what people want or give up its monopoly, something that seems only fair to students who continue to use the Ambler Campus. While it is still open, the dietary needs of those attending should be met.

Toby Forstater can be reached at 

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