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Choice on Food

Dining Hall Alternatives Sorely Needed

By Daniel M. Suleiman

I've been here three months, and I haven't chosen a meal I haven't paid cash for. Although Harvard Dining Services tries to give us variety in their offerings, there are times when savory baked tofu just doesn't cut it.

It wouldn't be Harvard, I suppose, if the administration conformed to the dining services of other colleges and allowed its students to determine for themselves how they wanted to divvy up their money when it came to food. We can discover new theories about quantum physics, become Nobel laureates and even be presidents of the United States, but we aren't smart enough to decide what we want to eat.

The 21 meals-per-week plan to which every Harvard student living in a dorm or house must subscribe is suffocating and downright nonsensical. Every time you don't make it to the Union or dining hall, you feel you're wasting a meal. Each time you go out to eat, you are essentially paying twice (after all, there is a well-balanced if boring meal waiting for you if you want it). After a while, everything starts to taste the same, whether it's kung-pao chicken, baron of beef or cusk (whatever the hell that is). And as we at Harvard know all too well, diversity is desirable...even in food. A person can handle only so much shake-and-bake.

If you don't make it out of the MAC by 7:15 p.m. or if your seminar leader keeps you late, you have to fend for yourself. With the recent opening of Loker Commons, that problem becomes somewhat lessened, but the issue of money is still there. Next semester, every student will have $100, including guest meal fees, to spend at the complex, but once that reserve is depleted, we might as well go somewhere else--why go to Loker instead of Tommy's? Also, the pizza place at Loker Commons is only open until midnight. Picture this familiar scene: You've just come out of Lamont, you haven't eaten in six hours, you've been studying all night, you're starving and, on top of everything else, it's freezing. Where do you go? Your choices are as varied as Tommy's sesame crust pizza, Pinocchio's Sicilian pizza or Store 24's hours-old, microwavable mysteries.

We need a campus hangout that stays open very late where we can use our swipe cards. Reducing the meal plan to seven meals per week with a 14-meal option to be used either at the dining halls (for those die-hard shells and sauce fans) or at various campus sandwich shops would allow students a choice in their food destinies.

Are my woes simply those of a college first-year who is going through home-cooking withdrawal? I don't think so. On many other college campuses around the country, there are numerous options besides the dining halls. At Columbia, one can pop over to a variety of places, including delis and sandwich shops, for a meal that is "free." (Let's face it; if it's on the card and not coming out of our pockets, it's free.) Even at Brown, they have "credit" which allows the students to eat late at night on their cards provided they haven't eaten all three of their meals that day.

Admittedly, the dining hall staff is friendly; there is a fresh salad bar with balsamic vinegar every day; and there is a variety of dishes. But sometimes when I see that brightly-colored menu on the wall, my heart sinks and I just can't bear the thought of eating another Union meal.

And it is true that we are budgeted for approximately 14 meals per week, because Dining Services factors in that not all students can go to all meals.

That's makes sense, but we still don't have any choice. I, for example, never eat breakfast--and I know I'm not alone. My earliest class is at 11 a.m., so I have never once gotten up early enough to eat. That is reason enough for me to want another plan. I would ideally like to have no mandatory meals at the dining hall, but instead have the money allotted for the Union transferable to other campus eating establishments. But I respect the desire of others to have a fixed place to get a meal.

Considering this possible difference of opinion, the solution seems clear. Students, before registering, should be given three options: subscribing to the current full meal plan, a new seven-meal plan that would allow students to use their cards at different places on campus for their remaining 14 meals, or a plan that would not require any mandatory dining hall meals but allow students to choose where they wanted to eat for every meal. And if there is money left over on a student's ID card, it should be returned. Even if there are those who object to this idea, because they are attached to their 20-meal plan, there must at least be the option of subscribing to this plan. Adults in the "real world" are allowed to choose what they want to eat; we should be too.

I just started here at Harvard, and already I'm hungry. I have at least 2,500 meals to go, and I don't want to leave them to fate. If the meal plan can't be changed, then Harvard's better alternative is to hire a few Jewish mothers.

Students should be given three options for College meal plans.

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