Campus Meal Plans: Is It Worth Your Money?

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) offers various different meal plans for students to purchase throughout the entire semester. These meal plans come with their own individual perks and benefits, as some meal plans are catered more towards certain students than others. However, these meal plans are not free, and range any where from a few hundred dollars for commuter-only plans to a few thousand dollars for full-time on-campus students. Because meal plans are relatively expensive and require students to use these plans only for on-campus food suppliers, the goals of this project were to bring awareness to the “real-cost” of a meal and if the cost of these meal plans provided by UMBC accurately reflect on the quality of food that is provided.

Since every meal plan is inherently different, it is somewhat difficult to attach a “real-cost” to each plan and objectively determine which plan is the absolute worst and which plan is the absolute best. Some assumptions about student behaviour can be made however, and a rough estimate can be made to determine the cost of a buying a meal plan, and the cost of paying for food out of pocket. By further researching the price of food from the UMBC website, our group was able to successfully determine that for a commuter, it is actually more viable to pay out of pocket than to buy any of the meal plans offered by UMBC, which would end up saving a student anywhere from ~$34 (Mini 25 Block) to ~$753 (Flex 10). For somebody who lives on-campus, the Flex 14, Flex 10, and Advantage 5 will all cost more than paying out of pocket, even if students only went to True Grits, which represents the most expensive option on campus).

During the project, it was relatively easy to obtain pricing, make some assumptions, and perform a quick analysis for the cost of each meal plan. However, it became clear that over time some of the goals that we originally strived for in the beginning were just not going to work. Attempting to actually change the cost of any meal plan in just one semester is practically impossible without the help of a powerful faculty member, and even then, it would still be very unlikely for this action to work in the span of only a few months. However, we were able to successfully create pamphlets that contained the most important findings from our research, along with basic information about the food services located on-campus. These were distributed to many different students on campus, and left in areas of high foot-traffic (i.e. the student athlete study hall area and The RAC). We were also able to contact the student life on campus who gave us plenty of information and advice about the next steps to take if we wanted to make a change. They advised us that to make changes to food options on campus we should contact the resident district manager, Tom DeLuca,  and Director of Retail Operation, Scott DiBella from Campus Dining Services.They told us the most efficient way to make a change would be to start a club to represent the dietary needs of students and to get more students interested.

Throughout the course of the class and through working on the project we realized, as a group, that everyone can be an activist and should partake in some form of activism.  Sometimes we discourage ourselves from becoming involved in activism because of our misconception that we have to make sacrifices that are too large or must devote too much time to our cause; this simply is not always the case.  While activism can indeed be serious enough to demand these things of us, it can also be as simple as living in a manner that reflects our principles.  By doing small acts each day or even refraining from certain acts each day that reinforces our principles and who we are, we should take pride that we are contributing to something that matters to us.  Practicing what you preach is important for inspiring and educating others about your cause because you fortify the authenticity and sincerity behind it.

This type is activism made us come together to address an issue that mattered to us, which is the lack of food options on our campus in relation to the price and actual cost of all the meal plans offered by UMBC. Healthy food options mattered to everyone in our group, from athletes to health conscious students. Although it appeared unrealistic that five students would make any tangible change, we stayed persistent to an issue we couldn’t ignore. We have put out the information of our campus food to the student body. Like most movements, the distribution of information pertaining to what needs to change is an essential first step for our goals to be reached.

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