Community Opinions: Meal plans do not give good value

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Campus meal plans are a waste of money. Required for first-years, presumably strictly for Carnegie Mellon’s economic benefit, the meal plans have little to offer for anyone else. A fixed number of meals that do not roll over after each two-week period, inflexibility in choosing meal components, and other rigid rules are all frustrating, but most damning to the meal plan is the fact that most plans actually cost more than the sum of their individual meals.

Take the popular Red Plan, for instance, with 22 meals per two-week period. Assuming that each meal is worth $8 — actually an inflated number as shown by a cursory look at the actual posted prices of most common meals — and accounting for 11 meals for each of the 16 weeks of the first semester of this year, the Red Plan’s cost (not including flexible dollars) is over $200 more than the actual value of the meals. Even the first Green Plan, which requires that one consume 38 meals every two weeks, has a value more than $50 below its cost by the same metric. This is unacceptable.

The food available on campus cannot generally be described as bad, but perhaps “underwhelming” is an apt characterization. Dining options provided by local companies are frequently good but invariable, and the recent adoption of CulinArt as the primary provider for dining services has also brought little substantive change. CulinArt’s food is mostly practical, if lacking in variety. None of the dining locations managed by CulinArt extend far beyond the comfortable sphere of standard grilled or deli food, and they provide very little in the way of ethnic diversity — the one Asian-themed location from CulinArt, Stir Crazy, silently vanished over the summer, and the promise of a new Asian location “opening later in the year” has yet to materialize.

Also highly questionable is the recent “meatless Mondays” initiative, seemingly an attempt to further Carnegie Mellon’s environmentally conscious image. Having myself at one point attempted to avoid meat one day a week, I can attest to the difficulty involved in such an endeavor. I have since converted to actual vegetarianism, which has proved to be far easier. For the majority of the campus community, which presumably has no such ambitions, I imagine the initiative will go largely ignored. I do, however, give Dining Services credit for providing vegetarian options. Almost every dining location offers multiple vegetarian meals, and most offer vegan options as well.

I hope that CulinArt and Dining Services continue to improve their service and products. Their first step should be making dining plans fair and economically sensible.