Upset New York University students have taken to social media with claims they are being served unsatisfactory and even unsafe meals while stuck in the school’s mandated two-week quarantine program.
The issue has been widely documented on both TikTok and Twitter by dozens of freshmen, including vegan students who have been served meat dishes, Muslim students who have been served non-halal food and even some students who have received little to no food at all.
In The Know spoke with four incoming NYU students who have dealt with the problem first-hand while quarantining at the $78,000-per-year university, which, on Thursday, promised it was “correcting the situation promptly.”
“There is absolutely no consistency”
Tara Shear arrived in New York City from Jacksonville, Fla., on Aug. 18, excited to begin her studies at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.
The 18-year-old told In The Know that although the majority of her move-in went smoothly, the school fumbled on its meal delivery plan, which promised three complimentary boxed meals and one snack per day “delivered directly to residence rooms in the early morning, early afternoon and late afternoon.”
Shear, whose concentration is in politics, journalism and psychology, said she didn’t receive her first meal until 9 p.m. on Tuesday after moving into her dorm that same day at 5 p.m.
“It was a bit late for dinner, but I didn’t mind it much since I wasn’t that hungry,” she said.
However, the disorganized delivery pattern continued over the next two days, with Shear and her dormmates receiving breakfast, lunch and dinner at odd times. What’s worse, some of their meal deliveries were “completely skipped.”
“I did not receive breakfast today until 1 p.m., and my lunch just arrived at 5 p.m.,” she said on Thursday. “Dinner will probably arrive close to 10 p.m. or even later, but there is absolutely no consistency here.”
On top of the timing issues, Shear said that the meals students do actually receive rarely comply with their dietary restrictions, including her own.
“I did not receive one single meal that complied with my dairy allergy until today at 5 p.m,” she said. “There are vegan students receiving meals that include chicken, cheese and even steak. Meanwhile, I am receiving vegan meals (I am not a vegan) which completely lack sustenance. The vegan meals include several granola bars and perhaps one apple or orange, although the oranges are unripe and I thought they were lemons at first.”
Shear shared footage of one of the vegan meals she received on TikTok — the cardboard box clearly contains a pastry, a granola bar, an unripened piece of fruit and a cup of grape juice. Her video has since racked up over 1.4M views, and is just one of the many to go viral in the past two days characterizing NYU’s dining experience as its own “Fyre Festival.”
“He didn’t want me to starve”
Shear hasn’t been the only one to express qualms about the school’s neglectfulness with dietary restrictions.
Adiba Chowdhury, an incoming NYU freshman double majoring in politics and sociology, told In The Know that despite explicitly marking her diet as halal prior to the two-week quarantine, she has received multiple meals that do not comply with the standard.
“On my first day, I got breakfast at 12:53 p.m.,” the student said. “The delivery worker rang my doorbell and said he didn’t have me on his list of people with dietary restrictions, but he didn’t want me to starve so he brought food that ‘might not be all halal,’ which he apologized for. He said he was just one of the front-line workers so that was the best he could do, and that he was Muslim so he understood my need for halal food.”
Chowdhury said the same delivery man returned again around 5 p.m. the same day to bring her a vegan meal for lunch — a watermelon, cucumber and pepita salad — claiming he had no halal food to give out. Two hours later, at 7 p.m., a woman came to her dorm room and brought her the halal food that was supposed to be her lunch. The meal consisted of a chicken wrap and a dessert, which she was able to eat for dinner.
At 10 p.m., she received what was actually meant to be her dinner — a “steak and fajita” bowl that was not marked as halal, meaning Chowdhury was not able to eat it.
The next day, the disorganization continued, with Chowdhury receiving her breakfast at 12:05 p.m. and her lunch at 4:43 p.m., the latter of which was not marked halal, rendering it inedible.
“It had a container of unmarked meat that I have my doubts about, so I don’t intend to eat it,” she told In The Know, sharing another student’s photo of the mystery meat, which can be seen below.
“It also had some snacks (chips, an apple, etc.) that I can eat,” she added.
Still, Chowdhury said she considers herself to be one of the luckier NYU students at the moment.
“I have food of my own that I brought from home (a giant bowl of biryani),” she said. “I have not been going hungry. However, if I had chosen to solely rely on NYU dining services, I would have been in a very dire position. I know a number of other people who have been struggling with this situation; my roommates have been dealing with getting extremely late meals as well.”
“I would have had a medical emergency by now”
For some students, late meals are an inconvenience at best — but for others, they can spell disaster.
One of Chowdhury’s NYU dormmates, who has hypoglycemia and wished to remain anonymous, told In The Know that if they were relying solely on NYU for food, as some students are, they would have likely suffered a medical emergency by now.
“I emailed NYU’s early dining email before the quarantine started to ask if I would be able to rely on the food provided by NYU to meet my medical needs,” the College of Arts and Sciences student revealed. “They assured me that they take all dietary matters seriously and were able to provide me with a sample of what the meals given might look like. While I do not have any dietary restrictions that have not been met based on the content of the meals provided, I have had many concerns over the arrival time of our meals provided.”
To ensure their blood sugar levels remain stable, the student said they need to eat every three hours, a demand that has been hard to meet considering NYU’s odd meal delivery times.
“Yesterday, I never received my provided lunch and instead got two dinner bags at approximately 10:30 p.m.,” the student shared. “Today I received my provided lunch at 4:23 p.m. This means I went over 10 hours yesterday without a provided meal and five hours today between meals.”
“I am very fortunate that my family chose to send me with a limited number of pre-made meals to supplement what NYU would be providing me,” they added. “But I can say with almost certainty that I would have had a medical emergency by now if I was solely relying on the meals NYU has provided me.”
“It is vital to get it right”
On Thursday, Aug. 18, the university released a statement acknowledging it fell short of expectations and promising it would be taking steps to amend the broken meal delivery process, a first of its kind for both the school and its food vendor Chartwells.
“We are aware of the students’ complaints, which are valid,” NYU chief spokesman John Beckman said. “There are over 2,600 students quarantining in our residence halls, and every day they are supposed to get three decent meals. Nearly 20 percent of the meals are specialized — kosher, vegan, halal, etc.”
“But it is vital to get it right, and we are disappointed in Chartwells’s management of the quarantine meals process,” Beckman added. “We and Chartwells are correcting the situation promptly.”
To address the widespread concern and disappointment among incoming students, Beckman said NYU and Chartwells will be adding additional shifts and staff members to the meal prep and delivery processes to ensure food arrives promptly. The team will also dedicate specific staff members to the preparation of specialty meals to ensure the dietary needs of all students are met.
A budget will also be allocated to authorized residence hall staffers who can order meals through regular delivery services should university-provided meals prove unsatisfactory.
“Actions are more important than words”
Dennis Lestrange, vice president of operations at Compass Group, which owns Chartwells, offered an apology in a separate statement to In The Know, writing, “there is no excuse for what happened.”
“These students are already in a less-than-ideal situation and we feel terrible that their meals weren’t delivered when expected,” said Lestrange. “We are working around the clock to make the necessary changes to ensure this does not happen again. Although we have been preparing, we are navigating and operating in a new environment and responding to the challenges that come with it.”
“The team and I at NYU Eats remain committed to providing the best dining experience in a safe environment,” he added.
Still, Larry Gu, an 18-year-old Oklahoma native majoring in Global Public Health: Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU’s Steinhardt, said he believes the “disappointing” catering issue remains “up in the air” until the university proves it can do better by its students.
“I believe actions are more important than words,” he told In The Know. “Hopefully, it does get better as this quarantine moves forward.”
One thing most students seemed to agree on was that general staff members with both NYU and Chartwells were supportive throughout the ordeal, doing everything they could to ensure students were fed.
“The resident hall staff have been responsive to the whole situation,” said Gu. “They seem to be frustrated as well.”
Despite the social media uproar and any promises made by the university, Shear said she has only heard of one student receiving any sort of compensation for mishap — the rest of her classmates “are still stuck with paltry meals” in the interim.
“We are just hungry,” she told In The Know.
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