Students at New York University are exposing the nightmarish quarantine meals on TikTok, and now the school is going viral for serving food reminiscent of Fyre Festival’s infamous “gourmet” lunches.
Amid the ongoing debate over the safety of in-person classes, the school announced its return to campus on Jul. 30, leaving thousands of students scrambling to get to New York City in time to move into their dorms. To limit the spread of COVID-19, the school is facilitating an unconventional move-in process to comply with the city’s mandatory quarantine order.
Anyone traveling from outside New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut is required to quarantine for 14 days, so NYU is splitting move-in into two shifts. About 2,600 students from outside the tri-state area have begun quarantining in the school’s dorms this week, and 3,700 will arrive in another two weeks. Students living on-campus will be tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours of arrival, and then again in seven to ten days, per the school’s return plans.
NYU promised to deliver three free meals and one “snack” per day for students quarantining in the dorms, as travel outside their rooms is extremely limited. According to information the school posted online, the meals will be delivered “at the same time” between 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. for students in residences with a kitchen and fridge, and three times a day for those without. The plan supposedly includes options for students with dietary restrictions, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten and dairy free, Halal or Kosher, and allergen free. The school also said that students will be allowed to order meals and groceries for delivery, but only between 2:00 and 8:30 p.m.
It seems that the dining plan isn’t really working out, though. Students are complaining that meals are being delivered late, if at all. In one Reddit post on the NYU subreddit, a student said they hadn’t eaten in 24 hours because they didn’t receive any meals. Another student told the original poster that the school asked them to order in meals from GrubHub and offered to reimburse them with a $30 virtual gift card “in the near future.”
The meals that are being delivered are bleak. With little else to do (or eat) students have taken to TikTok to show the reality of the school’s quarantine food. The videos show students receiving cardboard boxes of vaguely edible items like prepackaged fruit juice, bags of chips, and a now-viral “watermelon chicken” salad. A student who requested a vegan meal received a steak and cheese sandwich for dinner. Another posted a video of a “salad” she received — the only meal that was delivered that day — consisting of just cubed watermelon and plain chicken.
“I thought the video was going to be longer but NYU forgot to feed us today,” she captioned her food diary. “Official day 1.”
In one particularly depressing TikTok, a student received a “chicken caesar salad” that consisted of a bag of tortilla chips, a package of balsamic vinegar dressing, and a single apple.
The students, many of whom have been quarantining for several days now, are increasingly suspicious of the meals they’re receiving. One posted a video of her morning “smell test,” which involved her deciding which breakfast items were actually edible. She visibly gagged after sniffing a prepackaged pastry and likened the grape juice to the ones served in mental hospitals.
The school’s trending TikTok infamy confirms that while colleges can try to safely return to campus, it’s a logistical nightmare. While many schools around the United States opted to stay closed to in-person learning until 2021, those that did reopen are now being forced to hastily reconsider amid on-campus COVID-19 outbreaks.
The University of North Carolina shut down in-person classes after just a week, and Syracuse University is considering shutting down in light of a video posted online that shows students secretly gathering in the quad.
At NYU, room and board for on-campus students, per the school’s website, is $19,244 per academic year.
UPDATE: Aug. 20, 2020, 2:15 p.m. PDT
NYU spokesman John Beckman gave the following statement to Mashable:
“We are aware of the students’ complaints, which are valid. This is a never-before-tried operation for us and our food vendor, Chartwells…But it is vital to get it right, and we are disappointed in Chartwells’ management of the quarantine meals process.”
In response to the concerns expressed on TikTok and Reddit, NYU will also add a shift to deliver meals earlier in the day, dedicate staff to responding to student concerns about their meals, and bring on an additional food service provider. The school also authorized residence hall staff to order meals through delivery service apps or provide funds for students to order food.
“We recognize that when people are required to quarantine in their rooms by themselves, few things in the day are more important than looking forward to something nice to eat,” the statement continued. “So this is a particularly regrettable error, and a let-down for our students. We are dismayed that this didn’t go off as planned. We and Chartwells apologize to the students, and we are committed to correcting this promptly.”