Some students question decision to bring fast food chains to VCU

Posted at 11:47 AM, May 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-15 11:47:32-04

EDITOR’S NOTE: is partnering with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s School of Mass Communications. Students from the project reported the following story.

By Toria Vaughan and Evelynn Escobar-Thomas

RICHMOND, Va. – The anticipated openings of Burger King and Taco Bell in the VCU University Student Commons in the fall semester are causing a stir among students.

The two fast food restaurants will be replacing two current VCU staples. Asian eatery Nao and Zen as well as Mexican offerings at Zoca are set to be replaced by Burger King and Taco Bell, according to VCU Dining Services.

Many students are excited about these coming changes. According to sales and service manager Tamara Highsmith, the VCU Dining Services recruited the two fast food chains based on student surveys and demands.

“I think it’s a good idea if they’re bringing in a Burger King and Taco Bell, because it allows more options for the students. But at the same time it concerns me,” said VCU student Christopher Webb.

Other students are even petitioning against the removal of Nao and Zen, which serves as one of a few meal options for students who are vegetarian, vegan, or need to eat gluten free products.

Leading the petition against Burger King and Taco Bell is VCU student Quinci Cuthbert, who wants to  promote healthy eating on campus.

“No one stepped up to do it, so I thought I’d do it,” said Cuthbert. “Our campus is turning into a fast food emporium.”  Cuthbert even created a petition page, which 300 supporters have already signed with their reasons for support.

“I don’t have a meal plan and I consistently eat at Nao and Zen. It’s customizable and healthy, and it’s the best vegetarian food supplied by VCU. This is Richmond; we don’t need a closer burger joint,” wrote one supporter on the petition page.

VCU has a strong health initiative to improve student eating habits. As part of its latest strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, the university even attempts to “achieve national recognition as a fully-integrated research university with a commitment to human health.” Now, many in the VCU community are concerned that the new restaurants placed in the VCU Student Commons do not promote healthy eating.

“I think that people get a little confused about nutrition. When I think of basic healthy eating I think of something that’s low in fat, high in fiber and has a variety of different foods and a variety of different fruits and vegetables,” said Katherine Vatalaro Hill, assistant director of the VCU Wellness Resource Center.

But Highsmith said, “Healthy is defined for different people as different things.” Healthy projects that VCU Dining Services are currently working on include a nutrition tour for new students during the welcome week at the beginning of the fall semester and additional labeling of products as well as a new look to the nutrition kiosk at Market 810, located in the Shafer Court Dining Center,  which will show the nutritional value of the food served.

Besides Burger King and Taco Bell there will also be an installment of a full service Chik-fil-A and an option to use VCU meal cards at Subway after 2 p.m. inside the University Student Commons. Also there will be an all-day option to use meal cards at the IHOP Express located at the corner of Laurel and Grace streets.

Dining Services will also add a Mediterranean bar in the Cary St. Market and Deli, and the Commons Convenience located in the University Student Commons will become a P.O.D. market with an expansion of Jamba Juice, a new sushi provider, and an expansion of Shafer Court’s Market 810-2-Go.

There will also be a renovation of the food court in the University Student Commons.

“We are currently getting rid of the glass wall to give it more of a food court appearance,” said Dan McDonald, assistant director of the Department of Business Services. He added that a Panda Express is also in talks of becoming the next food chain in the VCU food option lineup.

Although some students like Cuthbert feel that VCU Dining Services is not considerate of their health and well-being, some efforts have been made to limit unhealthy eating habits. Burger King, for instance, will not be an option on students’ meal plans, but will accept Dining Dollars and RamBucks. However, Taco Bell will be a card swipe option for students after 2 p.m.

“The heart and soul of the dining program will always be at the Shafer Court Dining Center. We continue to change how we do business with each location,” said Highsmith. “You can find healthy and unhealthy options wherever you want to dine.”

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.