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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Self Shelf: Food for thought: A dining critique

Published: April 30, 2010
Section: Opinions

I recently went on a nighttime foray to Einsteins. I went because my floormates had informed me that at 2 in the morning (Einsteins’ closing time), Einsteins gives away all of the bagels that it didn’t sell during the day. Apparently, there’s a tradition on my floor of receiving a half dozen free bagels which would otherwise be thrown out—it seemed reasonable to me.

So at closing time, I stood at the counter of Einsteins waiting for them to give me my rightfully earned bagels. I was then informed that, due to a change in Aramark policy, the staff was forbidden to give out the bagels. Instead they were to be thrown away.

I asked why this policy was implemented and received the answer that Aramark didn’t want to be liable for anyone who might get sick from the “expired” bagels. The problem with this explanation is that there is no expiration date on bagels at Einsteins. Thus, if I had bought the bagel five minutes earlier, I could’ve also gotten sick and Aramark would’ve had the same problem.

This new policy by Aramark is just the latest unpopular policy implemented by the flawed dining at Brandeis. There are many other problems which I have heard voiced by my peers.

The largest problem is the faulty meal plan system. All of the options offered are flawed in their own way. Yet if you want to live on campus, you must buy into one of these plans. Problems with this system include the fact that meals cannot be used anytime but only once during a meal block. This would not be such a problem if meal blocks didn’t stretch for over five hours. Points are supposed to make up for this inefficiency but one should be able to have lunch at 11:30 and dinner at 4:30 if they wish, using two meals.

Additionally, students are grossly overcharged for these plans. Take the 10 meal Combo Plan for example. Ten meals a week times 14 weeks a semester + 525 points = a grand value of $1645, and that’s with each meal counting for the maximum dinner amount of $8. Yet the actual cost of the meal plan is $5,138. I can expect that production and staffing costs would require overcharging students but this amount is ludicrous.

To compound the iniquity, the allotted meals one receives disappear at the end of every week. Not only are students being overcharged but they are being robbed of their meals at the end of every week. This wouldn’t be a problem if students could use meals whenever they wanted but they cannot and so they are shortchanged again.

Yet the cost of these rolled over meals is not a mere eight dollars. Since meals count for more than their dollar worth (as shown by the equation above), one is losing close to thirty dollars per meal. Thus the loss of meals is a far more egregious wrong than one might initially think.

But nonetheless, let’s leave the idea of the meal plan system. Aramark might prefer it because of the profit margin or perhaps its infrastructure cannot support students able to use multiple meals at once. Other colleges, such as UMass Amherst, have these capabilities, but let’s pretend for the moment that allowing students to use their meals whenever they wish to use them isn’t feasible.

Finally, the food selection itself is lacking in variety in comparison to the high costs of the meals. Aramark recently tried to revamp the dining system and I hope it’s a sign of further changes to come. At the moment, however, the food selection is decidedly poor. Much of it is based on easily produced food like burgers, pasta and pizza.

The stations in Usdan don’t even serve all of the dishes that their menus directly above their stations advertise. In fact most don’t even serve half of them. There’s an apparent disconnect in the food that they are supposed to serve and the food they actually provide. I don’t blame this on the personnel – in fact the friendly Aramark staff is the best part about the meal plan. Instead, it’s the fact that the food is simply not there.

As to how the situation could be improved, I believe in two main changes.

My first change would either include allowing students to use meals whenever they wanted or rolling over meals. This would make sure that, even if the meals have a high cost, the students can at least use them to their benefit (as they’ve already paid for them).

My second change would include adding more variety to the food served. Perhaps adding more restaurants on campus (I know this is already an aim of the Student Union) or at least producing all of the food items offered on the menus would help alleviate complaints in this area.

Other changes might include allowing students on campus to opt out of meal plans even if they live on campus and perhaps offering the village meal plans (which are markedly better) to all students.

The latest improvement in food quality shows that the system is capable of improvement and indeed there is a mechanism where students can make suggestions. Consider these my suggestions which I believe, if implemented, will alleviate the majority of student complaints and help give Brandeis an even better reputation.