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If Aramark Stays, Better Cook for Yourself

Column by Thomas R. Karlo
Contributing Editor

Better get your pots and pans out and practice cooking for yourself. It looks like MIT is going to extend the contract with food service provider Aramark for yet another year while the dining review group tries to get its act together. At the current rate, it doesn't look like many of the students currently here at MIT will still be around when change arrives to campus dining options, if such change ever does arrive.

I don't blame Aramark for continuing to serve us the same food at inflated prices as they have for the last five years. They're a business, and their goal is to make money. It's too bad they can't seem to do that at MIT in a consistent manner. I guess trying to sell food to students here is a bit easier than in some of the prisons they service. Bet that's where they got the idea for mandatory meal plans - you don't see Cinderella's Pizza delivering to the Cambridge jail much, do you?

The real fault lies with the dining review group. By failing to even reach a point where they could start negotiations with Aramark and other food services corporations, they have left MIT with no choice but to continue to extend Aramark's contract. And they're not particularly concerned about this. In interviews, they've stated that they feel no external obligations to meet the deadline to request bids from replacements for Aramark. Evidently these folks don't eat at Lobdell enough.

The quality of campus dining is central to students on campus. Few sections of campus affairs touch on so many members of the MIT population on a daily basis. According to the student life survey conducted last year, the majority of MIT students would favor a change in food service providers. To delay the consideration of such change for years - when the vast majority of students demand it now - is unforgivable.

The issue of food services is particularly critical because of the relative isolation MIT has from outside food establishments. Compare the area immediate to MIT to the areas around Boston University or Harvard University and you'll understand why students so commonly end up eating at Lobdell despite hating the food and prices there. Relatively few alternatives exist.

MIT needs to look toward alternatives to Aramark's monopoly over on-campus food services. Competition would not only increase the diversity of food available and drop prices; it would also come with benefits like a greater range of dining hours and more responsive management in the smaller establishments.

Establishments like LaVerde's and the many food trucks around campus are already proving that students want an alternative to Aramark and that they will gladly patronize such alternatives. If such independent outlets also had the convenience of the MIT meal card, they would only become even more successful. MIT should consider options like providing free meal card readers to LaVerde's and Toscanini's as an interim measure while it makes up its mind. Surely a giant national corporation like Aramark isn't scared of competing with two local establishments?

Students need to be active in pushing for change in the MIT food situation. Rather than whining about the prices that Lobdell charges or how terrible the food is, try going to LaVerde's or the trucks for lunch, or maybe picking up your morning caffeine at Tosci's. Although you won't be able to use your meal card, you'll have a wider range of options, freshly prepared food, and friendly, personal service. By giving them your business, you'll help them remain an option for MIT students. You'll also be sending a message to Aramark: While the MIT administration can't seem to decide what they think, you already have.