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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Meal plan options poorly thought out

Published: January 28, 2005
Section: Opinions

Typically when students return home for a break or vacation, one of the first questions they are asked by their relatives is about the schools food. While each student might have a vastly different opinion regarding the quality of the food at Brandeis, many would agree that the system of purchasing food at Brandeis should undergo significant changes. I feel that there are several flaws to the meal plan system, especially for freshmen like myself, and there are possible ways that the situation can be improved for everyone.

Meal Plans are mandatory for all students living in dormitories on campus with the exception of the Charles River Apartments, 567 South Street, the Foster Mods, and Ridgewood. The different meal plans are the 21 Meal Plan, the 14 Meal Plan, the All- Points plan, the Flex Plan (100 meals per semester and $600 in points each semester), the combo plan (10 meals a week plus $400 in points), and the Village plan. Freshmen are unable to choose either the all-points or the Village plan. The reason for the mandatory food plan is said to be for health reasons. My question is, why is there even a mandatory food plan in the first place? Using health as justification for mandatory meal plans makes little sense, especially since a student can choose to eat unhealthily anyway. We are college students who are mature and can make our own choices when it comes to things like this. If the plans remain mandatory, there should be a better reason for this. Most students would still most likely sign up for some sort of meal plan, but it might save others a lot of money.

The all-points plan seems like it would be a good thing since the student is not tied to eating a certain number of meals per week or semester. The conflict of interest is that the student gets $1300 in points but the plan costs $1987 per semester. This translates into roughly $1.53 of actual money for every point dollar usable in the Brandeis cafeterias. This makes little to no sense. This means that every time a person uses points they are paying 1.53 times the price. Shouldnt one real dollar be equal to one dollar in the cafeteria?

As a first year entering Brandeis, I decided right off the bat on the 21 meal a week plan. However, it did not take very long for me to see the drawback in choosing this type of meal plan. It is nearly impossible for most students to eat every meal in the week, especially if they have classes after 10:15 in the morning. The people in charge of the hours of operation need to consider that college students are not going to wake up just so they can hike down to breakfast, possibly hours before their first class. It would make the most sense to at least extend the hours to 11:15 in one of the cafeterias considering that many students have classes from 9-11 in the morning.

Secondly, the 21 Meal Plan is rather misleading in its name. In order for a student to achieve this so called 21 meals, a long and complicated process follows. A student would need to wake up between 8:30 and 10 AM on Saturday morning, eat breakfast at Sherman, then go to brunch in Usdan between 11 and 1:30 in the afternoon, and finally eat dinner at either dining hall before 7 pm. Confused yet? Sunday is similar to Saturday because rather than two separate meals of breakfast and lunch, there is a brunch. It is laughable to conclude that most students on this plan take advantage of this, especially since the average college student is still in a deep sleep at 10 AM after five days of early classes. The best decision to make as a student is just to avoid the 21 Meal Plan completely, unless you are sure that you are not going to miss any meals at all.

Another major flaw with the meal plan system is the non-allowance of multiple meals during the same session. If it is Sunday night and I have 4 meals left, I am out of luck because I am only able to use one at a time. Similarly, if a student goes home for the weekend, they are unable to get anything ahead of time in preparation. The monetary value of each meal is the main reason for not allowing this, but that is no reason not to allow some sort of equivalence. The minimum equivalence for all of the meals is breakfast, which is $3.50. At the very least, a student should be able to redeem any leftover meals for this amount in Usdan or the Boulevard.

For the time being, however, the smartest thing to do is to simply try and plan ahead of time if you are going to miss a meal. If you are on the 14 Meal Plan and plan to miss 2 meals over the weekend, try and fit a breakfast or two in somewhere to capitalize on these would-be lost meals. It is wrong for students to have to spend so much time and energy just to break even when using the meal plan system.

In a perfect world, we could put in as much money in WhoCash as we wanted, be able to spend it at will, and get a dollar for a dollar in exchange. In addition, the advantage of WhoCash is that it is usable in a few restaurants off campus, while points are not. It might just be wishful thinking to imagine a WhoCash plan of some sort, but it seems like it would be the best option.

I would really take pleasure someday in telling my parents and relatives that I am getting good value in my meal plan at Brandeis, but before that can happen the administration and Dining Services need to make drastic changes. In the meantime, the issue should be hotly debated and pondered within the student body.