Kenyon NetNutrition launched at the beginning of this semester amidst increasing criticism that the College was not providing accessible ingredient lists for students with dietary restrictions.
NetNutrition is a website that provides students with nutritional information about the meals served at Peirce Dining Hall. When the website’s users specify their allergies and dietary restrictions, it displays a list of the foods they can eat at the servery that day. The site also allows users to access details such as calories, fat, sodium and cholesterol in their meals.
Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman and Manager of Business Services Fred Linger agree that calls to provide students with information about the food served in Peirce have become louder over the past several years. NetNutrition is one way the College is attempting to address these ongoing concerns.
“In the last year or two, the call for labeling for allergies, for information on ingredients, has just become phenomenal,” Linger said. “It’s very hard to do with paper signs. And menus are kind of a moving target, because things change.”
AVI Foodsystems, Inc. is Peirce’s food provider. Though AVI is the sixth largest food and hospitality provider in the country, Kenyon became the first school to approach the corporation with the request to launch a website that tracks ingredients last February. According to AVI’s Resident Director Chris Wisbey, AVI was excited by the idea immediately.
Starting last February, AVI’s nutritionist, Michelle Apple, and her assistant Nikki Graham collaborated with the College to compile nutritional information for over 2,000 recipes. This information was given to the CBORD Group, the company that created the NetNutrition system, and CBORD employees plugged this data into the website. AVI double-checks the information CBORD puts into the system.
“It’s a constant working model,” Wisbey said. “Every day, we’re trying to make it better.” AVI is continuing to update the system every day with current and detailed information, Linger said.
The information is not always correct. “I found a couple of inconsistencies between ingredient lists and allergens being marked,” Jessica Kotnour ’19 said. When the website was first launched, she said she found that waffles were not marked as having wheat or milk.
Local foods, which AVI uses frequently, are often not included on the website because it is difficult to find specific nutritional information about foods that do not come from large providers, Kohlman said. Foods from Amish providers, which are mostly desserts, are also not included on NetNutrition because it is difficult to convince these providers to reveal their recipes, Kohlman said.
“We have ingredients but we don’t have recipes from the Amish,” Wisbey said. “We’re working to get it from them. We’ve said to them, ‘We need this or we can’t buy from you anymore.’”
The NetNutrition website provides a disclaimer at the bottom of the page: “If you utilize any information provided on this site, you do so at your own risk and you waive any right to make any claim against Kenyon College or AVI Foodsystems as the result of the use of such information.”
This does not apply to students who have severe allergic reactions to food that NetNutrition misidentifies, Wisbey said. In other words, if a student with an egg allergy consumes a food that NetNutrition marks as “egg-free,” AVI is still liable for this mistake.
By the end of this week, students will be able to browse NetNutrition on a touchscreen outside of the servery. The touchscreen was supposed to debut at the beginning of the semester but issues with the screen technology postponed the launch date.
“Like anything, it’s a community tool that we need input on and it’s susceptible to criticism, but what would be far more helpful would be to point out if we’ve made a mistake somewhere,” Linger said.
Wisbey, Linger and Kohlman encourage students who find mismarked items to alert the College or AVI. On the whole, they have all received positive feedback about the system, particularly from parents.