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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The new required meal plan

An attack on accessibility and a non-solution to food insecurity

Last May, the administration announced that the class of 2026 would be the last class allowed to be fully off-board, and that all subsequent incoming classes, including the class of 2027, would need to be on some sort of Bon Appétit meal plan throughout their years at Carleton. Last week, they announced the new minimum meal plan: seven meals a week for $1,677 per term. Their supposed reason for this change is to fight food insecurity. Not only is this a non-solution to food insecurity that the administration is putting in place instead of actually solving the issue, but it will actively hurt the very students they are claiming to help. 

The first thing to understand about this meal plan is just how expensive it is. For $1,677 students get seven meals a week and 150 dining dollars. Taking out the dining dollars, students are paying $1,527 for seven  meals a week, making each meal eaten at the dining hall cost over $20, which is significantly more expensive than it would be for students to simply pay out-of-pocket for these meals (dinner is the most expensive meal to pay for out-of-pocket is costing$14.75). This is also much more expensive than eating at essentially any restaurant in town and worlds away from cooking and eating at home for students off campus. This meal plan has no right to cost as much as it does. 

Given that this plan is targeting students living in houses, this is even more ridiculous. Students in interest houses, for example, pay significantly less for their food than those on the meal plan. Those in CANOE pay only $350-450 per term to be on the CANOE meal plan, which provides food for three meals a day for all residents, as well as snacks to be eaten at any time of day. This is similar to the meal plans of other interest houses such as Farm, Culinary, and WHOA (Wellstone House of Organization and Activism). Furthermore, historically, residents of houses who are on full financial aid are eligible to apply their financial aid packages to the meal plans of interest houses. However, there has been no clarity from the administration as to if they will continue to subsidize groceries for those living off campus on this new plan. If they do not, it would make houses much less accessible to those with full financial aid. Even if they do, it is making living in a house more expensive for anyone who is not on a full ride. 

Whether in an interest or town house, students, including myself, will often find that food costs are much lower once you are off the meal plan. Students in houses could, without this meal plan proposal, still choose to be on board and receive any assistance they are entitled to. However, choosing to not be on the meal plan can make a huge difference in how affordable Carleton is overall. This is especially true for students who receive substantial financial aid, but not a full ride, for whom room and board can be a substantial portion of the cost of attending Carleton. 

The new Lilac Hill developments could extend the option of lower-cost room and board to a much larger section of the student body. The school is removing that option. Putting barriers in place and essentially removing this option to lower the cost of attending this school by the administration is clearly against the interests of students and against any stance the school has made on equity. 

This plan aims to reduce food insecurity, but all it does is put more burden on students. 

When it comes to actually putting forth solutions to solve food insecurity on campus, the administration has been much less attentive. Initiatives to bring Northfield Food Bank services to campus have been flat-out stopped by the administration. They have ignored requests from students to open up the food shelf year round, instead of just during breaks. This new meal plan is supposed to fix food insecurity, but at best it provides seven  meals a week for a huge additional cost to students. They have no solution for the other 14 meals students should be eating a week. 

Furthermore, due to various dietary restrictions or social conditions many students find the dining halls inaccessible and unable to meet their needs. The administration has been extremely rigid in creating exceptions to the meal plan requirements that would allow those individuals in dorms to cook for themselves in a way that lets them manage their own physical and social needs, and are now removing that flexibility from house living as well. Forcing students to eat in dining halls which may be harming their physical and mental health is not accessibility. 

Finally, let’s talk about the dining halls. Both the Language and Dining Center (LDC) and Burton are overrun and understaffed. Burton has been operating at above its intended capacity for years. If you’re an upperclassman, you’ll remember the dining hall worker strikes. Pushing potentially hundreds of students back in the dining halls just doesn’t make sense. The last thing our dining halls, our student workers and our staff need to deal with is more students coming through the dining halls. What does the administration expect from this change? More crowded dining halls? More strain on our workers and institutions? 

This meal plan is harmful on so many metrics. It is financially burdensome, it is inaccessible and it is putting more strain on our dining halls, which are already understaffed and beyond capacity. I personally cannot see any legitimate reason that this plan was enacted other than an outright cash grab by the school. I sincerely hope the administration reconsiders their priorities. 

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