Overall Reaction Mixed, But Vocal Segment Opposes Meal Plan

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Paul Baranay ’11 participates in a meeting on Sunday in Burton-Conner’s Porter Room to discuss the leaked consultants’ report on dining. The meeting was hosted by the Campaign for Students.
Eric d. sCHMIEDL—The Tech

Hastily-produced signs decorated the walls of the Infinite on Monday, highlighting phrases from a proposal to revamp dining that students found objectionable.

The signs reveal one vocal segment of the student body that actively takes issue with the proposal, produced by an external consultant for MIT’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining, which is charged with creating a new vision for dining at MIT.

While these students, and many others, oppose the possibility of a mandatory meal plan that the proposal suggests, MIT students are far from uniformly opposed, or even opposed for the same reasons; rather, student opinion as a whole might best be characterized as scattered.

The extent to which students are informed about the Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining, its consultant’s draft proposal, and the state of MIT dining in general vary as much as opinions on the issues themselves.

Many students’ primary concerns about the proposed dining plan center around its potential to restrict student choice. They objected to a mandatory buy-in.

“I’d like to have my own decision when it comes to dining,” said Jasmine R. Florentine ’11, a Random Hall resident.

Ashutosh Singhal ’12 voiced concern that students would not be allowed to spend a mandatory meal balance at all of the places where students currently choose to buy food, including ethnic and other specialty grocery stores.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with [all you can eat dining] but it doesn’t have to be mandatory,” said Nick Meyers ’12.

Many students expressed concerns about the financial implications of a mandatory dining plan: “It forces us to pay for a plan not all MIT students will use,” said Jeff Z. Chen ’12, who lives in Simmons Hall.

Dima Ayyash ’12 echoed this sentiment, saying, “I don’t think we should be forced to pay for food.” Ayyash, who moved to Senior House from Simmons this semester, said that, having experienced both eating at the dining hall at Simmons, and relying more on grocery shopping for food at Senior House, she prefers living without a dining hall because she spends less money on food.

Students’ opinions on how they personally would like changes to the dining system — issues of mandatory buy-in aside — varied widely, too.

Some students liked the possibility of the expanded all-you-can-eat options the proposal suggests: “I definitely think all-you-can-eat is a great option because I love eating and it’s stressful to have to decide on specific foods,” said Katherine J. Eve ’12, who lives in Next House. “I’m an athlete, too, so I have to eat a lot.”

Kabelo Zwane ’12 agreed: “Personally, I find that I’m not very good at picking stuff that’s good for me.” Zwane said he went to a high school with a dining hall that provided healthy food for lunch and “it seemed easier to go to some place with limited options and know you’d be eating something healthy.”

“It would be best to have a normal dining plan with breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said Adriana Vasquez ’11, though she did not believe such a plan should be mandatory.

Other students said they preferred the current system to the proposed one: “I like the system the way it is now,” said Angela Cheng ’11. “[All-you-can-eat] seems like kind of a waste, because right now we can get as much food as we need.”

Stephanie P. Chen ’11 expressed the same sentiment and said, “An all-you-can-eat system is more unhealthy because people will eat more to get their money’s worth. Less drastic changes might be better.”

Other students expressed dissatisfaction with the current dining options, but knew less about the proposed dining plan. Complaints about the current dining system ranged from too few options to too few hours to too expensive to too unhealthy.

Jose A. Muniz-Navarro ’09 said that, as a senior, he felt that MIT currently lacked sufficient dining options. He complained that he had become bored of the options that restaurants at the student center provided and joked, “I would suspect that what I’m eating at MIT for four years is going to have some serious consequences.”

He said he liked the idea of having more options available through a dining hall but expressed skepticism that MIT dining could provide quality service: “The danger of having mandatory dining is that if it’s crappy then everyone will have mandatory crappy dining.”

His friend, Aldo Pacchiano-Camacho ’12, lamented having three years of eating at MIT ahead of him rather than behind him: “I’m a freshman, and at the beginning I liked the teriyaki chicken and other student center options, but I’m already tired of everything.”

Student understanding of the leaked consultants’ proposal varied: the majority of students interviewed by The Tech said they had either glanced over or not looked at the copy that has circulated through dorm mailing lists over the weekend.