News, University News

Students criticize meal plan offerings

Concerns include required sophomore meal plan, lack of accommodations

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A majority of University students surveyed in The Herald’s fall poll said they are dissatisfied with current meal plan offerings.

First-years demonstrated the least dissatisfaction, but for every other class, 69 to 75 percent of students said they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied. Just under 40 percent of first-years reported less than satisfaction with meal plan offerings.

The disappointing feedback for Brown Dining Services comes months after the University announced that all sophomores would be required to remain on meal plan, a decision which drew criticism from students who argued that the offerings were too restrictive to be mandatory, The Herald previously reported.

Brown Dining Services offers a variety of meal plans, which vary in price, number of credits and eligibility requirements. First-years must enroll in one of the two highest-priced meal plans: 20 meals per week or Flex 460, each priced at $5,912. Sophomores can choose from the 20 meals per week plan, Flex 460 or two other, lower-priced plans: Flex 330 or 14 meals per week, each for $5,566. Juniors and seniors who choose to stay on meal plan have more options available to them: Flex 240 or 10 meals per week for $5,048, 7 meals per week for $4,576 or an off-campus plan for $1,886.

Eleven students approached by The Herald cited changes to dining halls in recent months and lack of food variety as their primary concerns with respect to the current meal plan options. Many also said that the value of each meal credit often does not justify its price.

Zahid Hasan ’21 expressed discontent with recent changes to Josiah’s, which recently replaced its mini-market with vending machines and swapped “three burners” — a station that used to offer foods such as chicken wings and dumplings — with soup. The change, meant to make the dining hall healthier for students, similarly upset William Brakewood ’22.

“Jo’s has gotten worse,” Hasan said.

Hasan also said he has found it particularly difficult to locate halal food on campus.

Many students expressed frustration with the value of each meal credit, which they say is too expensive when considering the total cost of a meal plan and the number of credits they receive per semester. Twenty meals per week and Flex 460 end up costing about $8.89 and $10.65 per meal, respectively, according to a February 2019 Herald column. As the price of a meal plan decreases, the cost of each meal increases.

Dana Lee ’23 said that the 20 per week plan is expensive and inflexible. Lee and her friends enjoy cooking, but she finds that she “can’t justify it” given the cost of the meal plan. “Other schools have better value per swipe,” she added.

Vivian Van ’21 said though she believes the 14 per week plan offers poor value per credit, she enjoys the flexibility of maximizing lower-priced plans through buffet-style eating at the Sharpe Refectory and dining off-campus. Overall, she believes that being on meal plan “alleviates the pressure of having to plan your meals when you go out.”

In an email to The Herald, Assistant Director of Wellness and Nutrition Jessie Curran wrote that Dining Services has no plans to retract the sophomore meal plan requirement next year, but that they will continue to take student feedback into account.

“The menus at Brown are something that change continuously as Dining works to provide fresh, healthy food choices to the campus community and to meet the evolving tastes and preferences of the student body,” Curran wrote. “This feedback will be considered the same way all feedback is considered. It is reviewed with the appropriate team members, making them aware of the response.”

Curran noted that a dining working group, convened to address student feedback, includes three undergraduate students, in addition to a PhD student, a medical student and a Masters student, as well as “several staff members who represent different departments that work with the entire student population,” she wrote. The working group meets monthly, but she added that “there is work that is done between each meeting.”

In response to concerns regarding dietary restrictions — religious and otherwise — Curran wrote that Dining Services has made recent efforts to expand halal options, as well as increase student awareness of them. Looking to the future, Curran hopes to enhance “involvement in orientation and ADOCH to make incoming students aware of what is available to them, developing a student-based community, led by our Nutrition Intern, who will regularly report to Dining,” she wrote.

Some students told The Herald that their meal plans meet their needs. First-years Mandi Biglari ’23, Sam Kolitch ’23 and Abigail Lyss ’23 each said that they were overall satisfied with current dining options. But Biglari emphasized that she would have appreciated more transparency about the points system prior to coming to the University.

“We aren’t really informed of the points system before (coming to Brown),” she said. “It wasn’t really explained to us.”

— With additional reporting from Sarah Wang

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