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COLUMN

Where’s Your Next Meal Coming From?

Roy Esaki

Enough has probably been written, for the time being, about the terrorist bombings and our reactions. Allow last one plug for monetary donations; in his delivery to the nation last Thursday, President Bush suggested a website, <www.libertyunites.org>, for a comprehensive list of venues through which one may contribute. It’s worth a look. Also worth a look is an issue of lesser, but still significant magnitude: that of MIT Dining’s planned establishment of a mandatory meal plan. It’s a policy that will certainly have a very far-reaching and permanent impact on students, in both the extent to which it influences everyday life and the number of students it concerns.

Passions will surely be redirected from U.S. foreign policy to the meal plan, and much will be ardently written in these pages in the upcoming weeks as people argue over the pros and cons of such a plan. As student feedback and responses will determine which of the various packages and counter-proposals is finally implemented, it is imperative that all students actively voice their opinion on the matter. Here is one possible opinion on the matter.

It’s not positive to have one’s way of life forcibly changed. Today’s declining balance system is quite convenient, and its flexibility suits our widely varied schedules and eating preferences almost perfectly. The problems with the present system are the limitations on where the card can be used, and the poor value of Aramark food. The new plan should definitely allow the card to be used in more locations, most importantly LaVerde’s, and it should make the food a better deal.

However, we must carefully scrutinize the argument that increased competition among food service providers and a guarantee of a consistent market for retailers will definitely improve the quality and value of meals. If meals must be consumed at a limited number of dining locations, regardless of the range of options or of the value of the food, then there may not be that great an incentive for the quality to improve, even if there is a requirement to provide sub-five dollar “value meal.”

There’s also a fundamental inequity in a mandatory plan, even if exceptions are granted to cultural houses and to Random Hall. Firstly, and most importantly, if we were to prepay for blocks of meals, I would have to get out of my room and walk out of my dorm to eat at one of the dining halls. The new plan also denies people the ability to eat off campus frequently. Even if people who cook on their own for health, recreational, or economic reasons could buy groceries on the meal plan, this precludes purchases at cheaper, more varied stores not covered by the plan -- a frustrating inconvenience.

Perhaps the most significant factor is the cost. The minimum cost may be much higher than the amount that a student currently spends or could afford. The cost of the current proposals is in the range of 3,000 dollars, and it seems this amount would be excessive and burdensome for most. A public, readily understood pecuniary analysis would certainly be in order.

There is a cogent “Statement Against Mandatory Dining” being circulated now which poses many of the same arguments as above. The abilities of the various student leaders, such as those on the Undergraduate Association Committee on Student Life, will be tested by the process of deciding the future of our meal plan; reconciling the opinions of a diverse student body is always a formidable task. We should not let committees and a few select vanguards dictate policies, however, and it falls on each student to figure out where his next meal is coming from.