The Shack, SVC’s Sheetz-like food hub for on-the-go students has received an unsavory reputation from many students on campus. “I am left unsatisfied each time I eat on campus,” said senior International Business and Marketing major Samantha Williams, “especially when I eat food from The Shack. I want to eat better quality food, yet I still find myself settling for less than my body needs.”
The food supply at The Shack is facilitated by a company called Parkhurst Dining Services. Parkhurst is a member of the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, a company responsible for managing from where many restaurants nationwide receive their food. Restaurants such as The Six Penn Kitchen in Pittsburgh and colleges like Allegheny College work with Eat’n Park Hospitality Group through Parkhurst Dining Services. Parkhurst strives for agricultural sustainability by buying ingredients like meats and cheeses from local farmers.
Chris Kimmel, the Assistant Director of Retail for Parkhurst, acts as The Shack’s manager and representative and handles purchasing food for The Shack. Kimmel has worked as Parkhurst’s representative at The Shack for six years, since the beginning of Pankhurst’s cooperation with SVC. He said that, despite contrary opinions voiced by some students, “Eating at the Shack can fulfill a student’s daily nutritional value. People assume that the food is not healthy here, but many need to be open to trying new things.”
Some available healthy options at The Shack include fresh fruit and vegetables such as celery and carrots that are hand cut and shipped in from Paragon Foods, a company that works with smaller farms to support sustainability. Paragon’s slogan is “Go Fresh. Go Local. Go Green.” In addition, salads, veggie burgers and wheat options for sandwiches are available for students who search for healthier food alternatives. Parkhurst uses fresh, live produce to make all their food. “Nothing comes in frozen,” said Kimmel. “We use real potatoes to make the mashed potatoes and we use real bacon, not imitation bacon.” He added that, although the fried foods such as the cheese sticks and french fries are not the healthiest choices, “The grilled chicken from Tyson is a great, healthy option.”
However, information recently in the news about Tyson Foods Company, the world’s largest meat processor and second largest chicken producer in the United States, has raised concern about the nutritional benefits of consuming Tyson products, as well as whether the company performs safe and humane slaughtering practices. In 2008, Tyson Foods admitted that its chickens were injected with antibiotics before they hatched but continued to label them as raised without antibiotics. They eventually removed this label due to USDA food safety standards but continue to use the antibiotics. Scientists like Cecilia Di Pentima, director of clinical services at the Infectious Diseases Division at Vanderbilt University, claim that the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture can accelerate the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could lead to health crises or pandemics. “Resistant bacteria pose significant public health risks,” Pentima said. “Routine infections once treated with penicillin pills now require hospitalizations and intravenous drip antibiotics. Infections from such strains of bacteria are believed to cause thousands of deaths a year.”
In addition, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has repeatedly clashed with Tyson over its treatment of animals. In 2004-2005, PETA conducted an undercover investigation at a Tyson slaughterhouse in Alabama and reported that workers were urinating in the live-hang area and on the conveyor belt that moves birds to slaughter. In addition, the PETA investigator noted several instances of animal cruelty, like workers beating birds against rails to break their backs, that went unattended by supervisors.
So why are Tyson chicken nuggets and Tyson chicken on sandwiches being served at The Shack? Kimmel believes that all along Tyson has received a “bad rap.” When asked if The Shack should make the choice to switch to organic chicken products, Kimmel said, “Many students are used to eating processed meats, and most students would simply not like the taste of organic meats.” Kimmel added, “We can’t tell the guest what to eat. We offer both healthy and unhealthy options. It is up to the student to choose what to order.”
According to Parkhurst’s Senior General Manager Reggie Esme, “At the end of every month, Parkhurst checks to make sure The Shack, as well as every other place it oversees, accords to their company’s compliance standards.” Despite national concern with Tyson products, serving Tyson chicken to students complies with Parkhurst’s “Food Gold Standards.” It is permissible to serve Tyson products because the company is still backed by the USDA.
One positive change The Shack’s management team has decided upon is switching the supplier of their chicken tenders, their number one selling item, from Tyson to Patuxent Farms. However, this change was not implemented due to nutritional concerns. Cooperation with Patuxent Farms was implemented solely for the reason that many students complained about the inconsistency in size of the Tyson tenders. The new Patuxent tenders are processed with a 14% solution; when asked about what was in this solution, Kimmel shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
Kimmel added that the lunchmeat used for the deli is a healthy option. However, healthy options are not always the most humane. The ham from The Shack is purchased locally from a farm called Hatfield Farms. Despite this farm’s locality, a Mercy For Animals (MFA) undercover investigation revealed evidence of cruelty to mother pigs and their young piglets at Hatfield Quality Meat supplier in Fannettsburg, Pennsylvania. The investigation uncovered, amongst other concerns workers grabbing piglets by their ears or legs and throwing them across the room and slamming them into transport carts. In addition, sows with rectal prolapses and deep, infected sores and scrapes from constant rubbing against the bars of their stalls were left untreated.
The Shack continues to serve food from Tyson and Hatfield Farms, which concerns some students like senior Anthropology major Brit Reese, who said, “The answer to feeding a large amount of people is supplying food that is not enriched. Rather, it is simply serving food that is non-processed.” Reese continued, “I feel as though I need to know more information about the type of food I am eating at The Shack.”