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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Students are taking mess matters into their own hands

They’re working together to make the food on campus healthier, more sustainable and tastier too.

education Updated: Aug 09, 2019 20:12 IST
Aishwarya Iyer
Aishwarya Iyer
Hindustan Times
Colleges are setting up student mess committees to help manage the food on campus.
Colleges are setting up student mess committees to help manage the food on campus.
         

If you’ve shifted to a new city to study and opted to stay at the college hostel, adjusting can be tough. You’ll miss home food, you’ll yearn for the freedom to fix your own midnight snack. You’ll eventually bore of giant chafing dishes and the same old flavours. At worst, you’ll find insects in your food, or stale ingredients. No wonder so many students sulk.

New initiatives to address these issues have come from both students and institutions. Hostel residents have formed mess committees helping choose menu items, doing a quality check and addressing complaints by students. The students at Somaiya Institution of Management Studies and Research (SIMSR) in Mumbai, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay, Institute of Management Technology (IMT) in Ghaziabad and the IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) have gone a step further. They also run a night mess for those studying in the wee hours, they fine the catering and cooking staff if quality drops, and have monthly gala dinners with pasta counters. Some even give the cooking staff a holiday and take over the kitchens for a more fun food experience.

WHAT’S ON THE PLATE

At SIMSR, the mess committee is called the Health and Infrastructure group. Students decide the menu and see to it that there are no repetitions in a week. “We restrict fried food,” says Prachi Jain, second year MBA student and joint general secretary of the mess committee. “If vada pav is served for evening snacks, then no other fried dish is served that day,” says Jain. They also aim to make the menu more diverse. South Indian and north Indian cuisines are served on alternate days for breakfast. To collect feedback and complaints, they share a Google form every week. Students have welcomed the initiative. “The new batch that started in July has many north Indian students,” says Jain. “We have beverages such as Tang, sharbat, lassi, and buttermilk for lunch. Many north Indian students did not like a kokam drink and highlighted that in the Google form. And we made sure that it is not served at all.”

SIMSR’s mess hosts celebratory feasts for festivals. This was the spread on Ugadi.
SIMSR’s mess hosts celebratory feasts for festivals. This was the spread on Ugadi.

Once a month, SIMSR’s mess also hosts a feast thrmed around the festival that falls within that month. For Ganesh Utsav, there’s Maharashtrian menu. For Onam, it is Kerala’s cuisine. Since July did not have any major festival and the batches began late, they had a welcome feast with Chinese and Italian dishes. “At every feast, there’s a live counter for pasta and chaat,” adds Jain. From 11pm to 3am Monday to Saturday,when students study through the night, tea, coffee, instant noodles and light snacks are available.

The mess team falls under the student council. The current council chooses committee members for the next year from the new batch. Shortlisted candidates undergo several tasks like group discussions, team activities, class voting and pitching and personal interviews.

CHEFS ON ALERT

At IIT-Bombay, the catering staff is fined a minimum of Rs 5,000 if they change the menu without notice, if there’s a drop in food quality and if insects are found in the food. “We have weekly meetings with the catering manager to discuss the menu and complaints,” says Lokesh Yadav, 28, who was in-charge of the largest mess in the campus. He graduated two months ago and is working with an IIT-Bombay startup. “A register is maintained for the complaints. AT the end of the year, we calculate the fines levied. The catering managers try to bargain and we negotiate a bit. During my year, the fines totalled Rs 5 lakh,” he says.

To ensure quality, the council has specified which brands of ingredients are used. Milk has to be from either Amul or Govardhan. “We make surprise visits to the storage cell and the kitchen. If they use some other product, we fine them for that too,” adds Yadav. At IIT, the gala dinners are a big draw. The committee members are voted in after every candidate prepares his/her manifestos and shares their workplan for the year. Yadav’s mission was to digitise the students’ mess cards.

Students get a hang of dealing with challenges, says Devang Khakkar, professor and former dean at IIT-Bombay. “It is very easy to highlight problems with the administration. But when students get a sense of what the problems are, it is good to see them manage the tasks in their ways.” This way, students learn much more than just the courses they have enrolled for.

BONDING OVER FOOD

At the Institute of Management Technology (IMT) in Ghaziabad students take care of everything from budgeting for festive dinners, coordinating with vendors, to communicating with the mess staff. On the annual Mess Day, cooking staff get a break and the mess committee, along with student volunteers, prepare meals as a symbol of gratitude towards the mess staff.

As a mark of gratitude, students at IMT-Ghaziabad organise an Annual Mess Day when students take over the kitchen.
As a mark of gratitude, students at IMT-Ghaziabad organise an Annual Mess Day when students take over the kitchen.

There are also bi-annual food nights (unlimited pizza or pasta). “Being part of the student council and handling hostel and mess administration teaches students project and event management,” says Karan Gupta, an education counsellor. “Students develop confidence, learn to handle responsibilities and solve out last-minute challenges. Being part of the student-run initiatives, youngsters get great lessons on managing time and networking skills,” he says.

Babita Krishnan, head of alumni relations and students welfare at Somaiya Vidyavihar says they encourage students to be a part of as many committees and forums as possible, as long as it does not impact their studies. “We believe that it has a tremendous impact on the overall personality of a student as they learn how to work in a team of diverse attitudes and mind sets. It also helps in honing their leadership qualities.”

First Published: Aug 09, 2019 20:08 IST

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