Last Thursday, University Housing announced a new meal-plan structure for students living in residence halls. Starting in 2014, all student meal plans will include unlimited meals. This is a change from previous years in which plans were separated into blocks of 125, 150, 200 and unlimited meals. Additionally, these plans included significant amounts of Dining Dollars and Blue Bucks: The 125 meal plan, for example, came with 300 Dining Dollars and 75 Blue Bucks. The new plans don’t include Blue Bucks and only include 25 Dining Dollars, a significant change from previous years. The policy also changes the way guest meals are distributed, allowing students only two guest meal swipes.

According to a University Housing official, the new plan was discussed at length and chosen to create a sense of community through dining halls. Christine Siegel, senior associate director of housing services, wrote in an e-mail to The Michigan Daily: “We want students to feel comfortable that they can eat as often as they like in the dining hall. We are hoping that the plans will encourage students to use our dining facilities as hubs for socializing and studying.”

Allowing students unlimited access to dining halls will definitely serve as motivation to spend more time there and allow them to swipe in for smaller snacks and meals without penalty. As dining halls across campus are renovated and offer more options, this meal plan structure provides those who frequent dining halls to take full advantage of all the different varieties offered.

While this plan is a great way to encourage students to take full advantage of the dining halls, it also creates a large opportunity for waste. I had a 125 meal plan my freshman year, and I still had more than 60 meals left at the end of the year. Now I may have been an anomaly as I barely ate in the dining halls, but that concern was echoed by others as well. Of course, this isn’t applicable to everyone as students vary in their use of the dining hall, but there are many who don’t eat large numbers of meals in the dining hall.

This could be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes when students are out in between classes and meetings, it’s easier to just grab something where they are instead of coming back to a dining hall. Other times, the food just isn’t up to par. Regardless of how many meals I had, I still found myself supplementing that with outside food, and Dining Dollars and Blue Bucks provided a great avenue to do so.

At the end of the day, while the dining halls are the primary source of meals for students living in the dorms, they aren’t the only source. For students who don’t eat in the dining halls as much, this new policy takes away flexibility and choice that students used to have.

Furthermore, there isn’t yet a systematic way to deal with waste from dining halls. With the onslaught of larger dining halls, the quantity and variety of food available will only grow. Perhaps, with the new policy more students will be inclined to eat there resulting in more consumption. But if that isn’t the case, there is also a lot of food that may go to waste.

In a walk around campus, we are exposed to members of the community who don’t have the same access to food that University students may have. If there is going to be an expansion of the meal-plan policy to place more emphasis on dining hall meals, the least we can do is also examine ways to minimize waste within the dining halls or explore opportunities to donate excess food.

Harsha Nahata can be reached at hnahata@umich.edu.

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