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Freshmen Beware -- Look Before you Eat

Column by Matthew H. Hersch

Opinion Editor

I was reading The New York Times yesterday, trying to find something to write a column about, when a convulsive fit threw me from my chair and hurled me across the room. I had just eaten a meal from the ARA food service flagship restaurant, Networks, when my stomach, in agony, had swelled to the size of a basketball.

In my last moments of consciousness after my heart stopped beating I was able to perform CPR on myself, only to awaken in the biotoxic and chemical warfare emergency room of Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Returning students know well of the horror of MIT's food service -- of ridiculous minimum meal plans, terrible hours, and food so bad that the service has to contract outside sources -- Burger King, Pizza Hut, Kowloon, and Domino's -- to stay in business.

Freshman, though, need to be warned. From the nice booklet and posters ARA gave out in the R/O Center it would seem that they actually care about student's nutrition habits. They don't.

ARA is currently operating on a five year contract with MIT to provide slop to students at unreasonable prices. ARA is widely considered to be the worst restaurant service in the nation, but for some reason ($$$) MIT chose to renew their contract with them.

ARA was in fact losing money at many cafeterias because students just won't eat there -- the food is that bad. ARA's answer has been to force dormitory residents to eat in its cafeterias by means of minimum dormitory resident meal plans. The company attempts to lure others with third party franchises.

But even ARA's secret plan to hire outside restaurants to fill the food need has failed. Case in point:

Last year ARA sought to contract a Chinese restaurant to provide delivery service to the MIT community on meal card. After supposedly extensive investigations, ARA settled on Kowloon, a restaurant thought by many to be the worst and most overpriced in the area. Within months the deal was breaking down, with Kowloon sources indicating the restaurant didn't even have enough woks to meet the demand from MIT. A few weeks ago, ARA had to can them for good.

ARA stinks. This is certain. The MIT community does not need a bad food service to charge us money to contract third parties that MIT could be contracting directly. ARA isn't giving us much for our food dollar.

As a junior I can no longer tolerate ARA food. I eat at local restaurants for 98 percent of my meals, using my minimum meal plan only to by Oreos and paper towels from the ARA-run Next House inconvenience store.

I suggest you do the same. Don't get a meal plan. If you have to get a meal plan, buy pre-packaged goods that ARA can't ruin.

ARA is lured to MIT by the prospect of profits and the guaranteed income from minimum meal plans. Don't give them any more of your money than you have to. Make them suffer. Make them barely break even, or, even better, take a loss. Show them that no one at MIT is dumb enough to eat their food. And show MIT that it screwed up in signing a contract with ARA.