Campus News

The hard-boiled reality of Bethel’s meal policies

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Bethel students seem to want more “bang for their buck.” Or maybe the right turn of phrase is they feel they’re getting “all sizzle, no steak” for their meal plans. Resident students at Bethel are required to have a meal plan on top of their room expenses. That makes sense. Students need to eat, and meal plans are a good way to make sure they can do just that. But what Bethel students are finding a bit less palatable is the actual cost of meal swipes. Here’s a quick breakdown: meal plans some in 5 varieties: 20 meals a week, 14 meals a week, 10 meals a week, flex plans (which give students a fixed number of meals at the beginning of the semester to use as they please,) and a commuter flex plan. The 20-meal plan costs $2,215, the 14-meal plan costs $2,030, the 10-meal plan costs $1,885, the average flex plan costs $2,132 and the commuter flex plan is 10 meals for 50 dollars and can be refilled at any time. Many students I talked to said they were on the 14-meal plan, which evens out to 2 swipes a day. Most people told me that they have breakfast foods in their dorm that they’ll eat and then swipe for lunch and dinner. Sometimes they switch up the schedule and swipe for breakfast and then either go out or cook dinner. A bit of simple math on the popular 14-meal plan reveals that, broken down, each meal weighs in at an average cost of $10.35, not counting weeks students won’t use their plan, like spring break. Compare that to the 5 dollars per swipe available with the commuter meal plan, which is totally optional, and you see what students are upset about. “I feel like it’s kind of a rip off, if you think about it,” said Abigail Crocker, a freshman theatre major. Crocker said that she’s talked to her parents about it and they felt that the meal plans get more expensive because of the relative convenience of having a meal plan on campus. Jessica Ratliff, freshman nursing major, had a bit more to say. “I think that’s kinda silly, because I’m paying so much money, and the meals are only, like, 6 dollars,” she said. “I’m (paying) a lot of money to Sodexo and I’m like what are they doing with it? ‘Cause I’m getting crap food.” Hannah Cave, a freshman social studies and philosophy double major, went on. “I don’t want to pay 14 dollars every time I get food for the same option when I can go to McDonald’s and get it for five and also be crap food.” But pricing isn’t the only thing that has students giving bad reviews. Some of Sodexo’s policies regarding food options and location hours are leaving students with a bitter taste in their mouths. “I’m not complaining about the quality of the food,” said Kayla Rundquist, a freshman theatre and English double major. “Because it’s mass produced food, it’s fine, it’s decent most of the time. What I don’t like is that it feels like we as students have to try and plan and fight the system to get the kind of food we want.” Rundquist specifically mentioned Sufficient Grounds’ policy to only allow students to use a meal swipe to get a drink after 7:00 p.m, as well as certain items only being available with Bethel Bucks or cash. She also commented on the hours not being quite what students need. “(Sufficient Grounds) closes at 10:00 (p.m.),” she said, “10:00 is when some things get out. So it seems like Sodexo’s not trying to help us get healthy food in a timely manner, but rather just to make money.” Alyssa Cavender, a general music major, expounded a bit further on the restaurant hours. “There are night classes, and people get out and they can’t go to SG to get food because they stop serving food with meal swipes at 8:00 (p.m.), or if they have an 8:00 a.m. and they want to get food before that class, they can’t do that anymore.” There are also policies that keep students from swiping more than four times per day. Ratliff talked a bit about it. “I have a 14-meal plan, and it works out, for the most part, I notice that I don’t really use them, and so I always end up with a bunch of extra meal swipes, but we’re only allowed four a day, and there are sometimes I think that’s just bogus.” Students are also only allowed to use 2 swipes per meal period, so if you’ve swiped twice during the lunch period, you have to wait until 4:00 p.m. to swipe again. Students also seem to want a bit more variety in their choice of food. Ashley Baughman, a freshman psychology major, talked a bit about the food choices in the Dining Commons. “I work at the DC, and I see a lot of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. However, I also agree that we could have better food and more fresh vegetables and fruits, kind of thing.” Ratliff went a bit deeper. “Sodexo, number one, they think that carbs (are) a main…source of food. And I’m like, yes, carbs (are) essential to our diet, but everything is carb-related.” Ratliff said that she has a vegan friend who doesn’t eat at the Dining Commons at all because she’s not able to eat anything besides the salads, which she doesn’t feel is a sufficient supper. Ratliff later went into the fact that the fruits and vegetables served are many times rotten or spoiled. “They use oil in everything, and I mean everything,” said Ratliff. “And not even the good kind of oil, like, they (use) corn oil or peanut oil, those aren’t very good. Those are actually worse for our diet than anything. They say things are healthy, but they’re not.” Ratliff said she feels that the food in the DC doesn’t give her the energy she needs during the day. She feels lethargic during the day. She even said that she sometimes feels sick to her stomach after eating because of all the oil. Cave works at Sufficient Grounds, and she gave a bit of insight on the policy’s effect on workers. “One of the main concerns I heard was, they’re afraid the employees won’t be able to get things done if they take away the only two meal swipes per meal period. But working at SG, it makes it harder whenever people come up and they’re like ‘what time does the meal period end?’ and I’ve gotta get this done beforehand. It creates chaos and then people are backed up in the line because they’re all talking about why they couldn’t get food, and they’re all hungry.” She also talked about her own experience as a student with the swipe restrictions per meal period. “The whole ‘only use two meal swipes during a meal period?’ No, that makes things harder, not easier, for everybody, including the staff, because I’ve dealt with it. The whole ‘only four during a day,’ a lot of my meal swipes go to waste because, not that I use four a day, but especially on weeks like (Easter break,) whenever I can’t use them after a certain time period, it doesn’t help.” “The Bethel Beacon” contacted Ed Bernhard, senior director of auxiliary services, for the reasoning and rules for these policies, but we did not receive a response. So what are these dissatisfied diners’ final suggestions? Cave said, “I think the main thing that needs to change is when we can use meal swipes…and how often we can use them, because, I mean, we’re adults now. If they can’t trust us to make decisions on how to manage our own food, then they shouldn’t be trusting us with $36,000.” Ratliff said, “They just need more food options. I know, I work in food service, I know it can be stressful, I know there’s a lot that needs to be done, but it’s possible. There’s lots of colleges that do it, that give you decent quality food at a decent price.” Baughman said, “This is the part of our life where we should be making habits that carry through, but if, like in this case diet, if there’s not choices to make better health choices, then they can’t be made.” Rundquist said, “Because we are paying so much for the meal plans, I feel like it should be convenient for us to get whatever we want to eat, because we’re paying for it. It’s not like we’re asking for it for free.” So how do you feel about the meal swipe policies and prices? Are you satisfied with your meal, or are you, like these students, hungry for change?  
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