Before I begin, I want to make it clear that this is not a article declaring ARAMARK as the anti-Christ, but rather a representative collection of complaints from the UR student body in order to raise awareness. This article calls attention to and denounces the explicit robbery of UR students by the ARAMARK-monopolized meal plan. Lastly, this article suggests amendments for the meal plan that just might appease the rowdy student population’s attitude toward ARAMARK. With that said, I shall begin my rant – I mean, my declaration of grievances.

First off, the prices of all the food on campus are ridiculously high. There is no reason that a 16-ounce bottle of Minute Maid orange juice should cost $1.99, when I can buy it for half that amount at a gas station. Am I really paying twice the price for convenience? As the sole provider of food services here at UR, ARAMARK is the only corporation that can take credit for this absurdity.

I recently learned from several upperclassmen that Java City used to have much cheaper prices than anywhere else on campus. In accordance with cheaper prices, students would flock over there to buy whatever they could. Like fascists, ARAMARK responded to this by complaining that the sales were hurt and raised the prices there. With a contract monopoly on food services, ARAMARK can adjust the market price however it sees fit, and the university can do nothing about it.

A supplementary annoyance is the fact that some items vary in price across campus. It is almost as if there is an “importation cost” to move the item from one seller to another.

Besides prices of individual items, the value of a club meal is also ridiculous. While technically at All-You-Care-to-Eat dining facilities like Danforth Dining Hall, you can eat your money’s worth, whatever that means, how often do students enter knowing that they will only eat a slice of pizza or a few grilled cheeses – or even just ice cream? The answer is – more often than not. The so-called value of a club is almost non-existent for most students.

The other day, I ate at the Pit and bought a 12-inch Blimpie sub because I was really hungry. As I proceeded to the register to pay for my unusually large meal, the kind woman at the register told me that it would be two club meals. Two clubs? Hold up. At dinner hours, a club meal is valued at $11, and they have the nerve to charge me two club meals for a 12-inch sub and a 22-ounce drink? That’s absurd.

I can go to a normal sub place off campus and get the same meal for less than the price of one club meal. What more can I say about the value of a club? The word “value” can hardly even be applied to a club meal.

To make matters worse, the university demands that its students purchase an unreasonable meal plan, often to the chagrin of the students. No student is going to use every club on the 280-meal plan, or even the 230-meal plan that is mandatory for freshmen. In fact, few students are going to spend the $400 or so of declining that comes with it. Why not? Because students do things like eat out or shop at Wegmans and eat in their rooms.

My roommate, for instance, calculated that he must spend $15 in declining every day in order to break even – not including the 130 club meals he has left. The only reason a problem exists is because the meal plans act as contracts chiseled in stone saying, “ARAMARK keeps what you do not spend.” This unwritten truth creates a sense of urgency in students, especially toward the end of semesters, causing them to spend and eat much more than they normally would. In effect, the meal plan promotes unhealthy eating habits and gluttony. No wonder the Freshman 15 – or 20 or 30 – is such a common phenomenon.

Why doesn’t ARAMARK grant a refund for students at the end of the semester or at the very least, do something worthy with the excess money, such as provide food for the homeless – if not out of compassion and pity, then for the sake of PR? I could easily say the answer is that ARAMARK is run by greedy executives who doesn’t care about the welfare of others or enjoys screwing students out of their money.

But I doubt that’s the case. We’ll probably never know why ARAMARK operates as offensively as it does. I’ve heard from some that the university simply hasn’t discovered a workable formula to return left over money to the students.

However, I cannot let myself believe that. I’m sure that if some creative minds got together, they could come up with a viable solution to the current excess money situation. At the very least, the university could employ a meal plan similar to flex – or even combine it with flex – where the student or parent can deposit any amount of money. This way, even if no method for a refund is implemented, students could deposit small amounts of money at a time, thus ensuring less would be left over.

Ideally, however, the university should work out a deal with surrounding corporations like Wegmans and local restaurants so students can decline food there, thus avoiding the pressure to stay on campus and use club meals and gaining convenient alternatives to the unchanging campus food selection.

I am merely pointing out problems with the meal plan here at UR. I am not touching on the lack of variety in food or how most options available are unhealthy, as these are problems at most colleges. I am not going on about how the benign, friendly food staff is the best part of the campus dining experience and is ridiculously underpaid, given how ARAMARK makes out like a bandit. I am voicing the concerns of much of the student body, including myself, about the current meal plan system and have suggested ways it can be improved.

I only hope this article reaches someone high up with an open mind, who can hopefully consider amending the current plan to make it more favorable for the students.

Stillman can be reached at astillman@campustimes.org.



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