Escaping the meal plan straitjacket

    I have endured quite a dysfunctional relationship with my meal points. Through trial and error and masses of high-priced nonsense, I’ve come to the realization that meal points are utterly ridiculous.

    Pat Leung
    Guardian

    I have thought about this even more lately because of a current issue: Next year, the UCSD Housing & Dining plan will change to a controversial “”one-contract, one-rate”” plan for undergraduate housing.

    The plan will charge students the same price for living in residence halls and apartments. All single rooms will cost one price and all double rooms will cost another, regardless of location. The policy will also require all on-campus residents to purchase a meal plan.

    The restrictive concept of meal plans and their respective meal points is entirely unreasonable.

    For example: One day, I suffered from an intense craving for breakfast cereal, like any typical college student. Imagine my horror when, upon arriving at the legendary Earl’s Place, I reached for a box of Frosted Flakes and discovered, in anguish, that it was $6.19.

    “”They’re just meal points,”” my roommates assured me. “”Don’t worry about it.””

    The average freshman maintains the impression that meal points are fake money. That’s the problem regarding almost any type of credit card: A card is an illusion made of plastic, a synthetic checkbook with which you make no real record of how much you’re spending.

    Earl’s Place, along with the majority of on-campus dining facilities, is expensive. If you’re someone who actually likes to eat three complete meals every day, it is rather impossible not to spend over the average meal plan limit of $10.50 per day.

    I’ve heard another common perception in Earl’s a dozen times: “”It’s just my parents’ money.”” Honestly, I sympathize with these poor parents. As one blessed to have discovered how to cash in one’s meal points, I have saved nearly $600 that was formerly meal points merely by shopping elsewhere.

    How I cashed my meal points (the sad yet wonderful tale) goes as follows:

    I was talking to another freshman, and our conversation happened to pause upon the fallacy of meal points. He mentioned one of his roommates who felt the same way I did; he told me there’s a way to transfer your points to your plus account.

    Transferring my meal points to TritonPlus dollars was actually quite an easy endeavor, although it took a week or two for the full amount of money to appear. Suddenly, an oasis of Subway sandwiches and coffee shops opened to my happy experience. Yet my TritonPlus joy was not long-lived. The fall from grace occurred upon a trip to the Food Co-op in the Student Center.

    I went with a sophomore friend of mine on her recommendation of their healthy-but-tasty selections. Basking in the aroma of warm bagels, I asked her a seemingly stupid question: whether the Food Co-op takes TritonPlus cards.

    She shook her head. Turns out the Co-op, as you all surely know, accepts only cash.

    That was when I began to get disillusioned with my TritonPlus card.

    I began to wonder if there was a way to cash in my TritonPlus card. I anxiously searched the TritonPlus Web site, finally stumbling upon a bit of crucial information: If you cancel your TritonPlus card, you will be sent a check in the mail.

    Nevermind the two dreary weeks it took to actually receive this check, weeks during which I survived on skimpy reporter wages (believe it or not). But in a simple, understated way, I was free.

    Nevermind how tedious grocery shopping is to the average head of a household. I discovered what grocery stores really are: a sanctuary of variety and super-low prices. On my first “”pointless”” trip, I even bought a box of Frosted Flakes — under $4, and not even on sale.

    The moral of this story is that meal points are what they seem: utterly pointless.

    Your TritonPlus account can do precisely what meal points can do, and much more. However, a lump sum of real money placed in a checking account can do more than both combined.

    The advantage of grocery shopping, I must admit, is something I’m lucky to experience. I am one of the rare and fortunate freshmen with a car. Shopping off campus is quite difficult for those confined to the campus bubble.

    I understand that there is a multitude of students who, upon receiving access to such a large sum in the bank, would go dollar crazy and spend it faster than you can say “”Earl’s Place.”” Then, in fear of starving for the rest of the year, these irresponsible people would call up their mommies and daddies to plead for more cash. Amateurs.

    In reality, I think the best solution is to create a fine balance between a TritonPlus account and a checking account, with much more weight on the latter.

    Currently, residence hall students do not have the points-to-cash capability. Although I was expertly misplaced into a Warren apartment instead of residing within my Muiron homeland, I have definitely come to enjoy the pseudo-self-sufficiency of the apartment experience. Under the new contract, apartment dwellers lose even their meager level of independence. This is another story to tell.

    The new apartment-dwelling freshmen don’t have a chance to do any of this. Every single freshman, expansive apartment kitchen or no, will be required to have a meal plan with points they cannot cash. I sympathize immensely, since the thought of even a fresh Canyon Vista quesadilla makes me feel significantly queasy.

    I can’t really offer a solution to this dilemma, because the new housing plan has already been voted into establishment. Freshmen, unless the new regulations are ever overturned, are pretty much doomed to high prices and mediocre cuisine for that crucial year of their lives.

    Nonetheless, if you are currently an apartment freshman and you’re sick of Sierra Summit, I strongly urge you to do what I did. Tony the Tiger is waiting for you.

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