Meal plan options should include opt-out opportunity

Photo courtesy of Jordan Scharaga

Robin Gow

This year, Wismer changed the meal plan options for the first time since I arrived at Ursinus three years ago. The biggest change is probably the inclusion of the “dining dollars only” plan and the ability to use more than one meal during a single meal period for the 21-meal plan, making the plan more versatile. In some ways, the changes are positive because they reflect that the school does listen to student feedback. I think that the people who work at Wismer do their best to cater to our entire student body. However, mass dining as a system itself inevitably leaves some students feeling less than at home at “Hometown”. The progress that has been made is great, but I still think students should push for more dining options in order to feel at home at Ursinus.

Junior Sarah DeFelice told me that she wants to see more food from other Latin American countries besides just tacos at hometown.

DeFelice said, “Wismer served fried plantains two times that I know of this semester. Plantains, consumed in various forms, are a staple food in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. So, seeing what appeared to be plátanos fritos in the dining hall one day was a surprise. I was happy to see that they had even tried. It felt wonderful being able to eat a type of food I was more accustomed to. I had never seen or heard of them serving that food before in my previous years here, so to me those were plantains of progress.”

I think something Wismer does well is that they actively listen to student feedback. I don’t think the progress is perfect, but they’re actively working to have more food from more different cultures. This is important to Ursinus’ commitments to diversity. Ursinus is your home for these four years and food is so much a part of how we conceptualize home.

Ron Wood, general manager of Dining Services said, “Feedback from students, faculty, staff, and all guests is always welcome. We have several avenues one can take to supply Dining Services with feedback on our operations. We are available to speak with patrons directly, about anything Dining Services related.”

Junior Ace Melendez commented, “I genuinely enjoy both the options and the quality of the food provided. Coming from my high school, it’s such a step up and it’s hard to come by this kind of food anywhere else. As for the new options, by which I think you’re talking about the upgraded meal plans, I love it. I think it’s just what I needed and having daily rollover credits really helps me get the most out of the plan.”

Despite this progress, I think students should be able to opt out of being on the meal plan. Currently, students that live on campus don’t have the option to opt out of the meal plan. I’m not claiming that cooking is better and that students need to learn how to cook, but students who don’t feel Wismer meets their needs should be able to opt out. I have struggled with an eating disorder and multiple stomach issues that prevent me from being able to enjoy Wismer like other students. Wismer also has fewer vegan and vegetarian options, so cooking at home allows me to have a healthier, varied diet. College is really the only place where meal plans are enforced. In high school they don’t make you buy the cafeteria food, and in a work place you wouldn’t be forced to eat at a dining hall, so why here?

Shamma Bermudez, director of Disability Services, explained that “it is rare that we approve a student to opt out of a dining plan due to a dietary restriction. However, we always consider all requests on a case by case basis.”

He also said, “We want students to have a good experience and be able to enjoy dining so we work really hard to come up with accommodations that can address their needs.”

Ursinus illustrated its attempts to listen and accommodate more students through the recent meal plan changes. However, they should also accept if students don’t want to be accommodated. Cooking for myself in Zwingli’s kitchen has been great for my stress levels. I don’t think I should have to argue based on an eating disorder that I don’t want to be part of the meal plan. In the future, the school should consider letting students opt out entirely. Until then I’ll just use my dining dollars on the occasional drink at the C-Store.


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