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Will new meal plans meet students’ needs?

Published: March 14, 2014
Section: Opinions


As the university plunged into midterms and the annual housing crisis, a lone email was sent to the entire student body. This email from Dining Services subtly delineated future meal plans and dining changes for the next school year. In a manner reminiscent of a “30 Rock” scene with Steve Buscemi approaching high school students, the email tried to “get down” to our level, and assure the community there remains nothing to question in dining. The email claimed accessibility to and understanding of the current student body. Dining services presented solutions to problems, claiming that they “did [their] best to match up the new plans to your dining habits and requests.” Yet a second look makes one see questions that remain unanswered, problems still unsolved and arising concerns. The new meal plans resolve some dining concerns, but raise new ones that cannot be rectified.

The changes gave hope to some dining issues on campus, but that hope has since receded. Many students, including myself, have lamented over dining for years. It seemed that Aramark did not care or listen, and then Sodexo came in, posed as a knight in shining armor to defend college students from dining injustices. Sodexo began with poor results, but has since improved. They have listened, but still fall short. Philly cheesesteaks, which Sodexo claims to serve once a week, are absent from Upper Usdan. The stir-fry and pasta stations in Upper Usdan have perpetually long lines. The pizza and calzones in Upper Usdan are bland and burnt. Neither Starbucks nor Dunkin’ Donuts can make correct coffee drinks. To their credit, Sodexo has listened to student demands often. This past week, Sodexo personally responded to a demand I made, yet refused to answer other questions I asked. Sodexo now proposes to significantly revolutionize the meal plans on campus, but looking more closely reveals problems in the new system.

These proposed changes do not mention resolution of the problems of guest meals, weekend hours or vacation hours. When Sodexo mentioned a whole new plan for next year, they failed to highlight resolving problems in this new plan. Guest meals, for example, have new limitations. “During the first two weeks of the semester, one can choose to donate your guest meals to “Brandeis Be Our Guest,” who will in turn, use them to provide food for the guests of the Waltham Community Day Center.” Sounds like a great opportunity for “social justice”, right? Look again. “During the first two weeks.” Who budgets their 5 guest meals in the first 2 weeks of a semester? My visiting guests don’t tell me in the first two weeks of the semester when they are coming. A more appropriate choice would be to donate them during finals. Yet that would go against Sodexo’s funding model, since they would lose income, as unused “Guest Meals expire at the end of each semester.” That’s profit for them and wasted money for students.

Weekend and vacation hours, as shown during this past February break, need drastic improvement. Only one place on campus takes meals after 8 p.m. on Saturday nights, and by then, most meal-eligible food items have been sold. During February break, Einstein’s hours were cut and Sherman had an oh-so-healthy fried dough and French fry night. There are also plans to make meal plans mandatory for all residents in a few years.

The meal plan changes raise new questions to old problems, such as price, the use of arbitrary numbers, lack of student input and meal equivalences. One aspect not delineated in the email was price. We don’t know how much these plans will cost, and we will have to choose them in less than a week. These plans cost thousands of dollars, and we have to choose blindfolded. Secondly, the numbers are arbitrary. Sodexo gave no logical reasons for offering 17, 12 or 8 meals a week nor why the Flex Points numbers are what they are. This leads into the next problem: lack of student input. Sodexo claimed “We’ve looked at what you’ve asked for, where you eat, and when.” I only saw one survey completed, and that led to the demise of Quizno’s. The Dining Committee has made a lot of decisions transparent, but still is not fully communicative. Why were we not alerted about possible options? Finally, the meal equivalencies become even more of a nuisance under the new program. They will only be at the Hoot Market and instead of dollar amounts, “The current meal equivalency will change to a Take 3 option.” They step forward in expanding options, but yet this new system at the Hoot Market “will not be available to students who choose the Unlimited Plan.” Why not?

The Sodexo meal plans sounds promising but mean nothing if reforms are not implemented. I recommend including a meal plan for those off campus that’s affordable, more national chains and better transparency. We will eventually be forced to participate in this program, whether we like it or not, and will be charged even if we do not live on campus. This is pure extortion. I work for Sodexo, and I know they can be a pretty good employer. But they need to do one thing: realize whom they serve. They serve Brandeis, and we pay for Brandeis, so by extension they serve us. We should have a say in changing the status quo for the better.