Let me start by making a huge understatement: I like eating. In fact, I’m pretty sure if I polled everybody who is reading this, close to 99 percent of you would say the same thing — save the 1 percent who simply love to disagree with everything. Let me use this opportunity to make another obvious observation about myself: I like eating good food. I’m sure you all can attest that eating food that tastes delicious helps us start, continue, and end the day in a satisfactory way. At this point, I think it’s clear to say that this was similar to the logic employed by MIT last year when they decided to overhaul the dining system.
With the introduction of the new Fariborz Maseeh Hall — of which I’m a happy resident — and its brand new Howard Dining Hall, MIT finally seemed to have a good reason to upgrade their meal plan. While the improvements seem to mostly be for the better, some constitute the bad and — oh dear! — the ugly.
Let’s start with the good: the food tastes awesome! After speaking to several upperclassmen before arriving on campus, I heard that, in previous years, dining was not the first choice of students when it came to having a good meal after a day full of tiring lectures, intriguing recitations, and myriad extracurricular activities. But Maseeh’s dining hall offers a diverse selection of cuisines, including Indian, Japanese, and American Grill, as well as specialty vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and halal foods. I believe it’s also important to mention that the food is very balanced in terms of daily nutritional requirements. Unless you get potato chips with your burger or hot dogs all the time, your diet can be considered quite healthy.
As the saying — and the Nelly Furtado song — goes, however, all good things come to an end, which brings us to the bad portion of the new dining plan: being forced into it. If you’re one of the lucky many to live in Maseeh, Baker, Simmons, McCormick or Next, you were required to enroll in a dining plan. For freshmen, this means that you have to purchase a minimum plan of 14 Basic — which will cost you $3,800 for the year — unless you live in Maseeh, in which case you have to purchase the 19 Full plan for a whopping $4,500 a year. For upperclassmen, this requirement decreases as the years go by to a possible minimum fee of $2,500/yr for the 7 Any plan offered to juniors and seniors. My main complaint here isn’t the fact that the dining plans are expensive — which they are — but the fact that you must enroll in them if you live in one of the aforementioned dorms.
This poses a particular problem for Maseehdonians — a seemingly popular self—given name for Maseeh residents — and those who live in McCormick, neither of whom were given the option to switch out of those dorms during REX. Of course, people who preferred Maseeh and McCormick in the Summer Housing Lottery knew that they were getting themselves into a binding deal. But things always get a little different when you actually arrive and see that, for various reasons, you’ll be missing some of those meals that you paid for — essentially throwing your money out on the street. It is still worth mentioning that paying for the equivalent of a 19 Full dining plan using Tech Cash would cost you $6,270 — $1,770 more than said meal plan — which brings me to my final point: the ugly.
I’m going to talk about something that has been at the forefront of news stories since at least 2008. Ladies and gentlemen, kindly welcome our guest of honor: the dollar. In these stressful times, many people have started employing more efficient methods of budgeting and it is my personal belief that $13.50 per dinner is well above and beyond the budget expectations of the typical college student. Sure, the quality of the food prepared is high and the concept of unlimited refills is a nice touch, but $13.50 is not a luxury everyone can afford. After all, everyone should make time to lift their heads from those seemingly endless p-sets and recharge their biological batteries with good food. Worrying about whether or not one can afford to eat is not a concern anyone should have.
To recap, the new dining plan seems to have been an immense step for the better, and as long as we make the proper choices regarding its direction, it can only get better. Choice and accessibility, however, should have higher priority in the future if the dining halls are meant to serve the entire MIT community. As a last note, if there are any Bon Appétit folks reading this, I would love to see some Ben & Jerry’s in the dessert area. After all, no dining plan can be complete without some amazing ice cream.