Is Cheap and Convenient Food Possible at MIT?

A Call for a Comprehensive Dining Plan on Campus

This past Monday, I munched on a chocolate glazed donut and sipped on iced tea (lemon and sugar) from Dunkin’ Donuts. I had a $5 foot-long Spicy Italian sub from Subway after my 5.111 lecture. And after pistol practice, I grabbed a cheeseburger from the Cambridge Grill.

Before coming to MIT, only in my wildest dreams would I have had a donut for breakfast, Subway for lunch, and a cheeseburger for dinner. Today, I’m starting to feel sick of it. Two months ago, I never thought I’d be sick of Subway. For that, I have to thank MIT Dining.

I’m sure that it’s been said before, but there are 1,000 new undergraduates and 1,000 new voices here at MIT this year — so it needs to be said again. Effectively, MIT has no undergraduate dining plan. If you insist on saying MIT does have a dining plan, well then, it sucks. MIT’s food (not dining) policy fails students in a very important part of their lives: basic sustenance. I’ve got enough on my plate to worry about without needing to worry about what’s on my plate.

I don’t want to need to think about what I should buy to eat and where I should buy it. Since, for many MIT students, money doesn’t grow on trees, we really can’t afford to pay high prices at Café Four or LaVerde’s for the sake of convenience. In fact, we need low prices and convenience. This is not a lot to ask for in a place where, by virtue, time is scarce and there are more important things to think about than dinner. I want quick, cheap, and convenient.

Is cheap and convenient food an impossibility at MIT? My twin brother’s experience at Boston University makes me think not. He can hop out of bed, run to the dining hall, swipe his card, and pile as much food as he likes on his plate. Then he can go back for seconds. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s stunning.

Furthermore, from my own experience, the food across the river is not half bad! And here’s the icing on the cake (the same cake that BU students can pick up for dessert) — my parents aren’t paying any more for that service than they would be paying had they followed MIT’s “suggestion” of $2,200 a semester.

Talk about hidden costs (my parents were initially surprised to find MIT’s tuition and room and board cost was slightly less than my brother’s). So why can’t we have a similar plan here? Why are students enrolled in a “dining plan” effectively forced to purchase their meals at dining halls or risk losing money?

I would even settle for crappier food if it meant I could have as much of it as I wanted whenever I wanted without having to pay for individual items. And in my opinion, Shinkansen’s “Bullet Train Fast Food” isn’t setting the bar for food quality very high.

As a freshman, I don’t care if past dining surveys have found that many students did not take advantage of homegrown MIT dining facilities. If those plans were anything like the vestigial plan some of my friends from Next and Baker have to purchase today, I’m not surprised those students did not take advantage of dining halls.

The solution is not to get rid of dining halls. The solution is to change the dining halls. Make them more accessible and cheaper. Incorporate dining costs into room and board. Streamline the process. I think MIT would find dining halls to be incredibly popular if we modeled them similarly to our colleagues across the river.

Others have said it, I’m saying it, and more disappointed young freshman will say it in the future. However, it should be said again and again until something changes. Until everybody gets sick of tired of reading dining articles in The Tech. Until this issue has been discussed so mind-numbingly much that whoever’s in charge here would rather make these changes than listen to people complain. Whatever it takes to enact change during the transient influx of enthusiasm at the beginning of each school year before we all turn complacent and the issue is shelved until next Fall.

Ethan Solomon is a particularly hungry member of the Class of 2012.