At long last, Vassar students might finally receive food that is edible. This is a huge step forward for humanity. The prospect of being able to actually digest and enjoy food on campus is incredible.
The Vassar Student Association and the Food Committee should be commended for its efforts in bringing about this change. But now that it’s being addressed, the time has come to take on the elephant in the room: the exploitative nature of our meal plans.
Our current meal plan system offers four options: Minimum, Standard, Enhanced and Plus. Each one gives a set number of meal swipes, dining bucks and 10 guest swipes. While the dining bucks can rollover from the Fall to Spring semesters, meal swipes do not have that option. As a result, many students struggle to use as many meal swipes as possible, while also striving to save their dining bucks for more Retreat options in the second semester. While this may not sound that bad, the fact that our dining in the Deece is less than adequate, it makes using up 150-200 meal swipes in a semester difficult.
Vassar’s largest meal plan does not allow for three meal swipes a day for seven days a week. This might not seem that bad to an observer who’s also not a Vassar Student, but it is indicative of a larger issue within Vassar’s food service industry.
After all, we get dining bucks and can therefore just go to the Retreat sometimes instead of the Deece. Some students, or should I say the ones with particularly deep pockets, may even go out to eat on occasion. That’s fine. Except that the facts complicate matters.
A meal swipe cannot be saved semester-to-semester. That means, if I pay for 180 meal swipes, but I only use 165 during the semester, there are 15 meals that I paid for but that I won’t be allowed to receive. In most places this is considered to be theft. Here, it’s a sound business decision.
Because you can’t save up meal swipes, it makes financial sense to use up as many as possible before the end of the semester. Dining bucks, which are used at the retreat, may be saved semester-to-semester.
So the system in place forces us to use up all our meal swipes and then go to the Retreat to use up the rest of our dining bucks, so that we have to get more for the coming year.
Some might suggest that the solution is a complete reversal of the meal plan. I say there are two concrete acts that we can do to change things for the better. We can fix all of these issues with just two reforms.
Firstly, let’s give students the ability to customize their meals plans if none of the pre-set ones appeal to them.
For example, if I know that I’m going to be spending a lot more time at the Retreat than the Deece, I’ll get a meal plan with a lot less meal swipes and a lot more Dining Bucks. If I want additional meal swipes I can get that. If I want less I can get that.
We should just have more general flexibility surrounding how we create our meal plans. We know what we wnt to eat. The school should trust in the ability of students to choose their own meal plans and stop forcing us into their strict options.
Some might say this is difficult to implement. Those people are correct, if we assume that they live in a world in which computers don’t exist and everything must be done manually. As we live in a world where computers DO exist, this can easily be programmed.
Rigid, pre-set meal plans made sense for a pre-computer based system when it difficult to keep track of how many meals people have had. Now that this technology is available, I say let’s use it.
Secondly, and this is a really complex one so bear with me, let’s allow for students to save their meals swipes to the next semester. It’s really a simple concept. If I pay for 180 meal swipes, then that’s what I should get, even if I don’t use all of them by the end of the semester. That’s fairly reasonable, I would say.
So, if it’s so simple, why isn’t this already school policy? Because the administration wants you to have to pay for a meal plan every semester. This is so that they get more money out of you. They need more money because the profits of campus dining go to the food provider rather than the college. While some view this as the reality of the situation, I call this poppycock.
I challenge the notion that meal plan reform actually costs the school money. Customized meal plans still allow me to use most of my meal swipes, but I’m not going to overuse my meal swipes. I’m going to use them up at the end of the semester because the amount of times I used my meal swipes will be consistent with the amount I wanted.
What I won’t get is a situation where I use up all my meal swipes before the semester ends, and as a result I am stuck up creek without a paddle. We can have a meal plan that works for both the school and the students.
Now that we’re a getting a new food provider, one that hopefully serves actual food this time, we have a golden opportunity to enact meaningful reforms. Our current system needlessly exploits the students for excessive financial gain.
But honestly, it’s not completely on the VSA or Food Committee to fix. We should demand that whoever gets the honor of the being Vassar’s first provider of food plays fair with the students. This requires going to meetings, researching the potential food providers and getting active ourselves. We will never fix campus dining with apathy.