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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The madness with our meal plans

Published: September 12, 2014
Section: Opinions

Education, food and shelter: a minimal list of the things provided to us by our school. There are always going to be students complaining about how much work they have to do or the not-so-luxurious living of dorm life. Nevertheless, I have heard complaining about the food and our access to it more than anything else thus far into the school year.

You may not be worried about the “freshman 15” right now, but maybe you should be. Last year, we were introduced to the concept of new meal plans. Everyone nodded, and as fall approached, people made what seemed like logical choices for their nutrition. Nevertheless, none of us could have foreseen the seemingly growing number of pitfalls in their actual implementation. Our meal plans almost coerce us into the all-you-can-eat dining halls.

Sorry to break it to you, but if you have the eight-meal plan you’re limited, big time. And if you have the 12-meal plan, well, you’re basically being forced to eat at Sherman or Lower Usdan. Just consider the 12-meal plan for a moment, one of the cheapest options for a meal plan. You have to eat about twice a day at either Sherman or Lower Usdan to use all of your meals. Almost every person I know is left with meals at the end of the week. I think it would make so much more sense if we could use our extra meals towards lessening the cost of eating in other places such as Upper Usdan, Einstein’s or Starbucks. This begs the question, why are meal equivalencies gone? I know they were a bit confusing, but people figured it out, and there must be ways of simplifying it other than just getting rid of them entirely. Maybe if equivalencies were still around, meal plans would be a little more user-friendly.

Meal plans are expensive, and I understand why they seem necessary. Everyone needs to eat, but I think it would make more sense to pay for something we’re satisfied with. I don’t think wanting a flexible option, which allows us to have a choice in where or what we eat, is too much to ask for. Imagine if students got “satisfaction guaranteed” with the purchase of their meal plan. I’m pretty sure Sodexo would be dishing out a lot of refunds to Brandeis students right now.

So it’s old news that the all-you-can-eat dining halls are offering to-go containers. That way you can get food with your meals without being contained to the “food cage” of Lower Usdan or stuck in Sherman, trying to find a table for an hour. Nonetheless, did you know that you’re going to have to pay for those containers? It’s only $4, which doesn’t break the bank, but still, after paying so much for our meal plans, it isn’t fair for them to expect us to contribute even more. It’s a one-time fee for a container. You can bring back your dirty container in exchange for a token, which will get you another reusable container after that. Containers are being offered to make dining a more convenient and hopefully less stressful experience. Yet personally, I’m not fond of the idea of having to invest more into an already considerably hefty cost to eat on campus.

So the eight-meal plan may cost less than last year’s 10-meal plan, but you are also getting a lot less for your dollar. Previously, a meal plan with fewer meals would be companioned with a higher number of points. It makes sense to have points compensate for a lack of meals. That way someone like me, who’s on the eight-meal plan, can still afford to get food. Eight meals and 600 points is a pretty substantial fund. The problem lies in the high prices. The C-store, for example, can charge eight points (read: dollars) for a jar of guacamole because its only competition is a 20-minute walk away at Chipotle. These high prices are also in the deli, the coffee shops and everywhere else. This leaves people backed into a corner. I’ll pay the high prices, but eventually I’ll run out of points, and unfortunately, it’ll be faster than I would like it to be.

Something has to change. Either we need to be offered meal plans that match our costs, or they have to change some policies that allow us to navigate through the weird world of dining. Sure, I’m being critical, but I’m not the only one complaining. There are Facebook groups that are planning protests and reaching out to administrators. There’s even a Facebook group named the “Sodexo Fan Club,” making fun of how frustrating dining has become. The creator of that group, Arya Boudaie ’17 recently posted, “Now here’s a debate for the ages: Who’s the better corporation, Sodexo or Xerox? I’m torn between the two after spending so much time with Xerox the last few days…”

These changes to our school were meant to improve the quality of life on campus, but as Boudaie suggests, functionality may be sacrificed for the sake of these advancements. They have changed our dining, a primary source of food for most people on campus. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that once people get used to the new system, it’ll get better, but as they currently are, there are flaws that just cannot be ignored.