AVI Foodsystems is constantly looking to improve student accessibility to information on the food Peirce serves and, this time, they are turning to cell phones. Students at Kenyon have no doubt seen the sheets of paper displayed at each station in the Peirce Dining Hall servery listing allergens included in dishes. Not all students consider this to be enough: Recently, a student anonymously posted on Peirce’s comment board, expressing the desire to see a list of ingredients for each dish.
“You can always ask a chef,” Executive Chef Jeremy Fonner wrote in response to the concern. “I am trying to change the menu signs. But for now, this is what the school wants.”
“What the school wants” could be interpreted in a variety of ways, but Fonner said the College has no policy about what AVI can and cannot say; they prefer this system to any currently available alternative. Essentially, Fonner said there is not enough room on a piece of paper to make the ingredients in Peirce menu items easily readable.
Fonner is working with the College to produce a smartphone app that would display ingredient information for the meals AVI serves at Kenyon. He and Fred Linger, manager of business services, originally estimated the app would be ready for students to download next semester but the timetable is set for next fall.
It is a complicated app to develop. Kenyon is hoping to work with NetNutrition, a nutritional information service used by schools like The Ohio State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Grinnell College, but developing the app would be difficult. Kim Novak, AVI resident director, said developing the app would include cataloguing all of Peirce’s approximately 1,200 menu items in the program, as well as accounting for the inability to standardize how chefs deal with a plethora of local providers and produce, as the proportions used in recipes could be changed according to the variety of produce used. For example, some providers may have more acidic tomatoes and so a chef may use more lemon juice to counteract that. “All that information is sometimes more than most people need,” Novak said, “but there are a few people that do need it.”
Linger hopes to prioritize displaying the correct information. “I think the goal is to be consistent and not put information up that is false,” Linger said. “I would rather have no information and make you ask the question than to have false information.”
Still, Fonner and Linger agree the current labeling system could be improved. Fonner arrived over the summer to replace former Executive Chef Meagan Stewart and is looking to change the old labeling system. The signage, which currently only displays information regarding key allergens, “is very vague and it does not really cater to a lot of the ingredients,” according to Fonner.
Even with an app, it will be difficult to give everyone complete access to the ingredients AVI uses because not everyone has a smartphone and not everyone with a smartphone would download and use the app. Making sure as many people have the access they need is something AVI has to constantly think about. AVI would “like to improve how we communicate with the whole menu process,” Novak said. Originally, the College hoped to replace the current signage with TV screens that display more information but found that the installation was impossible with Peirce’s ceiling.
As Peirce plans to expand access to food information, Fonner, Novak and Linger emphasized the chefs’ willingness to talk to students. “Anyone who ever asks a serious question about an ingredient, they’ll find the answer,” Linger said.