Thursday, September 29, 2022

SATS Portion Restrictions Spark Controversy; Dining Halls to Allow Double Taps

Story | Avery (she/her), Staff Reporter

Photo | Anonymous

Content warning: This article contains discussions of caloric intake (under “Food Portions Fixed by Contract: SATS”). Reader discretion is advised.

A recent policy change in Yale-NUS dining halls that limits the amount of food diners can receive has caused controversy among the student body. 

Following criticism, the Student Affairs Office announced that students would be allowed to tap their cards twice per meal service, though student response has been lukewarm. 

Previously, there had not been a specified maximum to the amount of food the dining halls could dispense per student. While students have been limited to one collection per meal service since the start of SATS’ contract, portion sizes had been freely adjustable when collecting meals prior to this change.

SATS, the caterer for the College’s compulsory meal plan, did not announce the change in its policy. However, the earliest complaint known to The Octant occurred on 8 February, when an anonymous student reported having requests for extra food denied due to a “new policy” in the Cendana Dining Hall. 

Multiple, consistent accounts have since emerged on YNC Spoon & Forks, a 900-member Telegram group dedicated to dining issues among the student body. These include sustained discussions on 12 and 15 February where several students reported limited and insufficient portions of food given across the three dining halls. On one occasion, a student was given six potato wedges and one piece of diced chicken, while another received three meatballs in addition to rice.

Requests for additional food were either refused or inadequate.

Food Portions Fixed by Contract: SATS

Portions of food provided per serving are contractually fixed, according to SATS in a 14 February meeting with the Dining Experience Team (DXT), the school’s main liaison body with the caterer. These include 80 grams of vegetables, 80 grams of chicken or fish, and 150 grams of rice or noodles.

Whereas serving sizes were more generous and freely changed, SATS now intends to strictly follow these apportionments, and will refuse requests for additional food beyond twice the specified quantities. No reasons for the change have been given, though reports of popular options quickly running out have led some to speculate that SATS is reducing the overall prepared amount, either for cost reasons or to alleviate food wastage.

The new policy has been met with widespread criticism. Students quickly pointed out the nutritional inadequacy of the serving sizes: according to information provided by SATS, one standard portion per meal service would amount to about 1500 calories a day, while the Health Promotion Board recommends 1800-2200 for an average adult.

The serving sizes are also unable to meet differing nutritional needs among the student body, such as higher protein requirements by athletes.

Others believed such a change is inequitable, such as Max Pasakorn ‘24, who highlighted “it’s been quite distressing to have to fork out extra money for meals outside because the servings are unsatisfactory” for lower-income students on campus. 

The high prices of the meals themselves have drawn scrutiny, which some argue are not justified by the quality and quantity of food served. The College charges up to $9,050 per year for room and board after subsidies, though the amount paid to SATS per meal tap cannot be disclosed as its contract is confidential.

“We are paying so much money to this school, and the fact that we have to struggle this much over something like food is ridiculous,” remarked Mich ‘22.

Adjustable portion sizes were among promises given to the student body when SATS competed for the College’s catering contract in early 2021. Several other promised services have also not been implemented, such as monthly restaurant-style meals or offering at least two vegetarian options per meal service.

Double Taps Permitted, to Mixed Response

Dean of Students Dave Stanfield provided the first official response by the school administration in a college-wide email dated 17 February. 

Citing cost concerns, he explained the previous unlimited serving sizes were “beyond what is required contractually and what makes financial sense,” and that it was “within [SATS’] rights” to implement the current restrictions. He added that the changes had not been communicated to the Student Affairs Office prior to implementation. SATS has now been requested to inform the Office before rolling out future changes.

Some have expressed incredulity that finances were behind the change in policy. “How does it take so long for a company to figure out its operational costs?” An anonymous sophomore wrote, “who’s putting the checks and balances on them?”

Students would also be allowed to tap their cards twice—and therefore collect food twice—per meal service starting from 21 February. According to Stanfield, this would “allow students more flexibility and the option of larger portions” for students dissatisfied by current serving sizes. Crucially, the maximum number of taps per week remains limited at 19 per student.

While some welcomed the measure, others remained unconvinced. 

“I don’t see how that is a solution,” said an anonymous first-year from Cendana College, “the issue is that we want more protein, but if we [tap twice], it means we have to sacrifice meals on other days.” Another anonymous sophomore echoed the sentiment, arguing it meant “if I want to eat more this meal, I shall have to go hungry tomorrow.”

Zirdi Syukur ‘23 also remarked students might either receive too little or too much food: “I just want some extra chicken, not a whole other meal.”

Leonard Chan, a Residential Life Officer at Elm College and head of the DXT, explained that the double tap allowance was “one of the solutions” DXT had been pursuing, and assured that the team would “continue to push for better portioning,” though SATS had been insistent on regulating portion sizes. He added that SATS would consult its nutritionist on the matter. 

Chan also clarified that “SATS is obligated to give each student a portion for each meal, but they were agreeable with the one-portion top up if students want after DXT gave feedback last semester.”

When asked about SATS’ accountability to the school, Chan commented that the DXT is the “main communication channel” between the caterer and the College, adding that they hold a “cordial and collaborative relationship.”

“Usually, when it’s I who send them a feedback message, they respond immediately and professionally,” he elaborated, though “extremely stringent” regulations by the Singapore Food Authority, global supply chain disruptions, and a centralised procurement process have slowed and impeded SATS’ ability to provide certain services, such as cut fruits and restaurant-style dining.

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