Meal Pointless

    Let’s face it – not a single dining hall on campus will ever compare to mom’s home-cooked chili. At one point or another, students realize that dining-hall food will never satisfy everyone. So why, then, is purchasing meal points mandatory for students living on campus?

    Priscilla Lazaro/Guardian

    Although the food is generally bearable, and the system allows students freedom to eat what they want when they want, the dining dollars system leaves much to be desired.

    All students living on campus are required to purchase 1,800 meal points, regardless of how much or how little they eat. This means that before the school year even begins, Housing and Dining Services takes in a whopping $1,800 from each student living on campus. And with the money already in their pockets, is there really any incentive for them to provide good food, prices or services? Because students have no choice but to redeem dining dollars at dining halls – dining dollars are nonrefundable, nontransferable and they do not roll over – there is no need to entice students to eat at dining halls, and therefore no reason to provide students with desirable prices or quality. And it shows.

    Why on earth is a container of 10 pineapple slices $2.75 at a dining hall, when a quarter mile down the street you can buy an entire pineapple for that price, and still have change left over? A Starbucks frappuccino is $2, while most stores charge less that $1.50 for the same drink. A 12-ounce cup of hot coffee is $1.25, and most deli sandwiches are over $5. Price Center’s Subway has a much tastier daily special, which is only $2.79. Although a dollar here and there may seem insignificant, added up throughout a typical student’s two-year stay on campus, the difference is huge.

    The higher prices wouldn’t be so bad if the food was worth that extra buck. But when a dining hall must prepare food for thousands of students every day, it’s unlikely that the food will really be restaurant quality. Sure, a $5 deli sandwich is worth it when it is loaded with gourmet turkey breast, fresh tomatoes and vegetables and fresh soft bread. But packaged Butterball turkey breasts that were bulk-ordered in packs of 10,000 on Wonderbread is not worth the money. Satisfactory? Yes. But worth the cost? No. Yet students are required to spend that money, when they may not want to.

    And this prevents the students who live in apartments with full kitchens from buying and preparing their own food. Because they have the meal points, they surely wouldn’t want to waste them. So they must settle for overpriced, not-as-tasty options.

    Students should have the freedom to purchase as many or as few meal points as they want. Some students refuse to eat the food, go grocery shopping and make their own meals, while others eat three times a day in the dining hall. Some students starve under the 1,800 meal point plan, while others throw money away. To really cater to the majority of students, meal plans should be much more flexible.

    Of course, we must always be thankful for what Housing and Dining Services does have to offer. UC Santa Barbara students can only swipe their dining card twice a day, forcing students to eat when they may not be hungry, and not eat when they are. UCSD has a plan that caters much more to the individual student’s lifestyle, and causes students to only take what they need, rather than scarfing down as much as they can because it is the only chance they will get to eat that day.

    But a fix for UCSD’s dining services is really quite simple – eliminate dining dollars and make TritonPlus debit accounts the standard. Parents would be able to deposit money according to the particular needs of their students. TritonPlus dollars can be spent in dining halls and at several off-campus restaurants – and best of all, money deposited in TritonPlus accounts is fully refundable. If the dining halls had to compete for our money like every other store and restaurant, we’d likely see a marked improvement in prices and quality of food.

    According to the H&DS Web site, “”The dining plan was created to give everyone maximum flexibility.”” But where’s the flexibility in a system that forces students to buy a set amount of nonrefundable meal points that can only be spent in a handful of locations? If the best interest of students is what H&DS has in mind, there’s a simple way to show it: Get rid of dining dollars.

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