As the final weeks of the semester roll around, people watch their amounts of work increase and their remaining dining plan meals and points drop. The Wesleyan meal plan is a stressor for many who feel that their money does not buy them enough food to dine comfortably and healthfully for the whole semester. Others, however, seem to end each semester with a wealth of meals and points remaining. The Argus food editorial staff tackles the question: is the meal plan enough?
Why the Meal Plan Needs More of Everything
By Emma Davis
Assistant Food Editor
After ending the fall semester with 20-something meals and negative points remaining, I decided that there had to be something wrong with how I was approaching my meal plan. Clearly, I wasn’t eating at Usdan enough, I was making too many frantic trips to Pi Café, and I was wasting money by buying supplies to make breakfast in my room.
In the spring, I resolved to eat at Usdan exclusively—aside from occasional invitations to WesWings from friends—until my meal count dropped below 75, and to no longer indulge in the giant cookies from Usdan Café on a regular basis. The previous semester’s imbalance was my fault for failing to plan ahead with what I ate. Or so I thought.
Unfortunately, with four weeks left in the semester, my meals have already dwindled to a mere 22. My points, even after recently adding another 75, are at a disheartening total of 0.78. Although I do still have a tendency not to eat lunch until the last minute and resort to points, my struggles with the meal plan are seeming more and more like a function of the plan’s inadequacies rather than my own.
Instead of eliminating extra meals and leaving me with a surplus of points, restructuring my eating habits has backfired and left me bereft of both. At this rate, I’ll be bankrupt, meal-plan-wise, by May 1, and that’s assuming I visit Usdan only twice a day.
It’s difficult to say what the solution to this dining conundrum should be, but in my experience we need more of everything: more meals, more points, and more flexibility when selecting a plan for freshman year. One step in the right direction would be to allow both meals and points to roll over from semester to semester and from year to year. The only group benefiting from that aspect of the current system is Bon Appétit Management, and it would be a boon to students who wish they could use the 40 meals that vanished over the course of previous semesters.
As a consumer, however, I recognize that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and neither the University nor Bon Appétit is capable of providing college kids with as much food as they would willingly devour while establishing a baseline profit. Instead, perhaps the best proposition is consumer education, a mandatory “How Not To Use Up All Your Points on Coffees and Breakfast Cereal” segment of orientation. With that kind of preparation, the next generation of freshmen might even learn to budget well enough to be able to treat hungry, stressed-out upperclassmen to dinner!
Meal Plan Not Conducive to Healthy Eating
By Erica DeMichiel
Assistant Food Editor
Interested in maximizing the longevity of your meal plan? Then you might as well forget about health consciousness.
Much to my frustration, I had no choice but to press the “Add Meal Points” button in my student portfolio last week. In an effort to maintain the healthy eating habits that I formed while living at home, I quickly ran low on points as I put nutrition before budget. A problem like this can often be attributed to government subsidies that make junk food significantly cheaper than fresh produce.
During a recent trip to Weshop, I made note of these price discrepancies, which often exist between single-ingredient products versus those with more additives. For example, a container of Greek yogurt costs about seven points, while a bag of potato chips costs half that amount. Because Weshop prices are generally inflated, students are often reluctant to trade in their points for overpriced merchandise. As a result, it’s easy to excuse an unhealthy purchase on the grounds that the meal plan is not substantial enough for more nutritious choices.
Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, meal swipes present a similar health problem. One would think that using a meal at Usdan provides greater accessibility to a wider range of healthy eating options. However, the issue arises when the number of meals offered is capped off. Since meal swipes are limited, students have a tendency to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet because it appears to yield the greatest value. In our efforts to be economical, we allow our finite number of swipes to justify the inclination to overeat.
Difficulties with the meal plan cannot necessarily be blamed on a flawed system at Wesleyan. Rather, issues can be traced back to a broken American food industry, which makes convenience a priority as opposed to nutrition.
The Sacrificial Plan
By Jess Zalph
Conquering the Wesleyan meal plan is a doable task.
Don’t get me wrong, the meal plan is not perfect, nor have I always handled it perfectly. The first semester of my freshman year, I ran out of points in October, partially because I was trying so desperately to conserve meals and partially because I decided I needed a fully stocked kitchen complete with cumin and paprika. This semester, I’m in danger of running out of meals. It’s a delicate balance.
One of the biggest problems with the system would also be an easy one to fix. Receipts should be given regularly at all dining locations—not just the ones that offer meals—and they should include the number of remaining points in addition to the remaining meal count. Weshop and Pi Café hide behind a lack of transparency, and their customers often do not know how much they are paying for the food they eat nor how much money they have left. Budgeting a meal plan is supposed to mimic handling money in the “real world.” In the real world, I always know how much I’m paying for an item, and I can see how much money is left in my wallet.
That being said, having survived my spent-half-my-points-on-spices debacle, the meal plan can be enough if you know what you’re doing and you do it wisely. Depending on your plan, you should have enough money to eat at Usdan with your friends once or twice a day, buy snacks for late-night SciLi, and occasionally splurge for a cooking project.
However, there is no room for error.The tendency to buy food but let it spoil, thus not getting your money’s worth, is definitely one of the fastest ways to drain your points.
Though I certainly can make the argument that the somewhat-limiting plan curtails healthy eating (boxes of lettuce, which are $5, are sometimes the only available Weshop vegetable), it also can dissuade unhealthy snacking. The meal plan, on its most points plan (for freshmen and sophomores), offers enough so that you can always keep bread and nuts in your room for fast nutrition. It does not, however, let you have a daily 16-oz. bag of potato chips.
We can make normative statements about whether or not the meal plan should provide a large enough budget that we can comfortably choose any dining option at any time for the entire semester. However, continuing the idea that the plan is mimicking the “real world,” we will have to make the same choices and sacrifices in the future that we have to make now. Learning to budget is an important skill, and if done skillfully, you will still be able to satisfy your cravings and indulge your desires, when it’s worth it.