Panda Express joined Tresidder Union’s cast of lunch and dinner venues this past summer, replacing Chopstix, another American Chinese eatery.
Almost halfway into fall quarter, community response to the new dining option is mixed, in contrast to the negative response the chain received when it proposed to open a location on the UC- Berkeley campus in 2009.
When Panda Express announced that it would be opening a Berkeley campus location two years ago, a group of Berkeley students protested.
So far, the Stanford response to the new dining option in Tresidder has been fairly positive, including long lines during the first weeks of the quarter.
Some said they appreciated the change. Mark Sherwood ’14 said, “I think it is better American Chinese food than the old American Chinese food that was here.”
Other students remarked on what they felt were the restaurant’s unsustainable practices, though none mentioned any measures similar to those in Berkeley.
Yonatan Landau, one of the leaders of the protest, said that when students investigated Panda Express, they “found that entrées were 60 percent fat calories.”
Landau, who donned a rented panda suit as part of the protests, also cited other problems he saw with the restaurant, such as a lack of vegetarian options and “no mention of any sustainability practices or labor practices.”
The group collected more than 1,300 signatures on their petition to prevent the restaurant from opening a campus location.
Christina Oatfield, another student who led protests in Berkeley, said, “If you look at USDA recommended daily food guidelines, Panda Express doesn’t follow any.”
In response to the protest, Panda Express offered to begin composting in their kitchens and use vegetable oil instead of frying their vegetables in oil from meat. However, the chain ultimately did not open a location on the UC-Berkeley campus.
Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS) Co-President Anna Doty ’12 said there are several problems with Panda Express, which she said she believes does not compost and uses single-use plastic utensils and containers.
“I think our position about Panda Express can extend to a lot of food distributors on campus,” she said.
“I think it’s pushing us back instead of pushing us forward,” Doty added. She said that she feels the restaurant’s presence highlights the lack of a comprehensive campus-wide policy on waste.
“We had zero-waste lunch during [New Student Orientation]. We know it can be done,” said Alex Luisi ’12, fellow co-president of SSS. “There’s a whole slew of packaging you can use that’s sturdy enough.”
Panda Express training leader Avel Fore said that students are happy with Panda Express thus far.
“Our secret is fantastic food, fantastic service, fantastic ambience,” Fore said.
At Berkeley, students opted to create a student-run co-op as an alternative to the chain. The Berkeley Student Food Cooperative (BSFC), which received over $100,000 in start-up grants, is now breaking even in sales, according to Landau.
The Berkeley students who protested Panda Express hoped to address what they saw as health concerns with the restaurant’s offerings, Oatfield said.
For now, some Stanford students agree.
“When given the option, students tend to make the healthier choice. With Panda Express, that’s not an option,” Doty said.
“I think that the culture… is different,” Doty added, referring to the relative lack of controversy among students over the chain’s presence at Stanford.