Transforming the Friedman School Café

By Allison Knott, RD

If you are a student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, you surely know the controversy swirling around the recently dismantled Jaharis café.  Once located on the first floor of the Jaharis building, home of the Friedman School, the café transitioned over the summer from a convenient place to get coffee, tea, and sandwiches to a room housing a single microwave, toaster oven, and three vending machines.  Sodium-packed noodles, saturated fat-filled muffins, and sugar sweetened beverages are not what you might expect from a nutrition school, so it is no surprise that the Friedman student population has strong opinions about the newest café developments.

I found the newest vending machine addition to be so shocking I posted a photo to Facebook for Friedman friends to comment.  And one response could not have summarized it better –

“Sweet, sweet, energy dense irony”
– Alex Blau, 2nd year Friedman student.

In an effort to give the student population a voice regarding the café, a survey on the food environment at Friedman was sent to the student population.  As expected, the results were not pretty.  Of 110 respondents at press time, 56% said they were ”very dissatisfied” with the food options available at the Friedman School.  In addition, 73% felt that it is ”very important” to provide healthier snack options within the Friedman School.  In an effort to get to the bottom of the café controversy, I sat down with some key student group members to discuss the café’s progress and plans.

Kyle Foley and Nicole Tichenor, members of Slow Food Tufts, are working diligently with dining services and student affairs on the café improvements.  Meghan Johnson, a member of Community Health Advocates Tufts (CHAT) has partnered with the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) to improve vending options within the school and eventually throughout the entire university. Both groups continue to make incredible progress and the steps are in motion for significant changes to the Jaharis food environment.

Before we can move forward, however, we have to understand how we got here.  And the biggest question on everyone’s mind is – why did the café close?  “The main reason the café closed is because it was not profitable,” says Kyle Foley, “It is a closed audience and right now, given the demand, and that most people bring their own food, a full service café is not an option.”  Kyle also pointed out that the space is not suitable for cooking on site, which presents a major problem.  Without a space to cook there are certain limitations on what can happen with the café space, so the student groups have brainstormed ways to work with the space we have.  Nicole Tichenor, who has worked on this issue since last fall, says a coffee kiosk with fair trade coffee and tea may be a viable option.  “We would also like to have yogurt, fresh fruit and other healthy snacks,” she says.  Sustainability and local sourcing are also priorities, and both are very important from a Slow Food perspective,” says Kyle.

There is also talk of a farmer’s market on campus.  Even though nothing is set in stone, Kyle seems hopeful. “The fact that the Medford campus has a farmers’ market means it is not out of reach for the Boston campus,” she says.

The Boston Public Health Commission is also supportive of this effort, which is aligned with their, “Life is Sweeter with Fewer Sugar-Sweetened Beverages” campaign. The campaign aims to reduce the availability and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages throughout Boston.  Meghan became involved in the effort when the BPHC contacted CHAT to help improve beverage options throughout Tufts’ medical campus.  “Essentially, Friedman is a pilot for the program on Boston university campuses,” says Meghan. “The goal is not to ban sugar-sweetened beverages on the Tufts campus, or any university campus in Boston. It is to improve the available options.”

Meghan stressed the importance of student involvement in this process. “We [CHAT] want to give students a voice and want them to know that there are healthier options available.”

Nicole, Kyle, and Meghan are taking this step even further by asking for a seat at the table – literally.  “We want student representation at the meetings between Tufts dining services and Corporate Chefs, the food service company for Tufts University,” says Meghan.  “There needs to be more transparency about what is happening in the café.”  The students have already had a meeting with representatives from student affairs and dining services about how to improve communication between the student body and the administration when it comes to food issues.

The café is not perfect, but one thing is for sure, the Friedman students are working hard to solve the problem.  As the only nutrition graduate school in the country, we are motivated to set an example.  “Mayor Menino was just here on Food Day celebrating access to fresh, healthy foods, and all this building technically had to offer him were vending machines with cookies. That needs to be changed,” says Kyle.

Allison is a second year Nutrition Communication student and registered dietitian.  She has a passion for communicating sound nutrition information to the public.  Follow her kitchen blunders, triathlon adventures, and read nutrition advice on her blog, Choices.Habits.Lifestyle.

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