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All meal plans are not created equal

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All meal plans are not created equal

Chelsey Guy

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Like all ideas, it started as a well intentioned plan to make things better.
Honestly, it was a brilliant idea when I first heard about it at the beginning of the semester.
Well, when I first saw it, I should say.
The sign stood in all of its shimmering glory inside of the University Center. It had a dark, navy blueberry background with a large mustard yellow logo. Mayo white letters explained what the sign was all about:
“MEAL EQUIVALENCY!
Exchange one of your meals for an equivalent dollar amount ($6) at the brands listed below!
(4PM – Close)
One Meal Plan Swipe per day.”
It was news to me and my friends back at the start of the semester. And, what news it was! As sophomores, we had a new meal plan. No longer could we go to the caf anytime we wanted no matter what. Our unlimited meal plans were gone. Now, we had a fourteen-meal membership, which meant that we could only go to the caf for 14 meals per week with $300 of dining dollars to spend at the UC. When it came to eating in the caf, we had to consider when and how we did it.
However, let’s be real and honest.
The caf is not as good as it once was on Mercer University tours past. The caf is hit-or-miss—miss on most days offering food that carries you through the day but not by much.
That’s why the Meal Equivalency was such a blessing to me and my friends.
In exchange for one our meals on our fourteen-meal membership, we could go to the UC and receive whatever we wanted without using our dining dollars. Best of all, it did not have to be a meal or whatnot. We could get just fruit or just a sushi plate or just a drink or whatever! If we wanted a meal, we got six dollars off of it and just had to pay the difference. Last year, going to the UC food court for dinner took forethought as if we were a family of four deciding between eating out or cooking dinner because it was so expensive. With the Meal Equivalency, my friends and I were able to have at least $250 dining dollars to roll over to next semester. It was a glorious change of pace. At the time, we thought it could never get better. The only problem we encountered was how agonizing it was to wait until four o’clock.
And then the inevitable turn of the tide came.
Mercer decided to change the policies of the Meal Equivalency. Now, in order to use the meal swipe, you have to have an entire meal, which means a sandwich or burger, fries or chips and a drink or a milkshake. The meal swipe cannot be used to purchase fruit, sushi or Asian bowls. It has to strictly be a meal, preferably one equal to six dollars.
These new implications of the Meal Equivalency make no sense to me and are beyond frustrating to me as a Mercer student. It is not clear to me why they changed it to only include certain meals. From my deductions, the meal swipe is just an extension of our meals at the caf. It should not cost Mercer any more to just continue keeping the meal swipe the way it was. It is all the same money that we pay to them. What is the difference if it goes toward a meal or just a container of fruit and a SmartWater?
Moreover, what about vegetarians and vegans? Before the change to the Meal Equivalency, my friends with these dietary restrictions would just go to the UC to get fries, fruit and juice with their meal swipe. The caf does not exactly cater to these dietary limitations, so I rejoiced with them when they were able to use their money to get food that they preferred. However, the meal swipe has changed that. Now, they are back to deciding whether to suffer through the lack of options at the caf or spend their dining dollars at the UC. Sure, some of them could get a veggie burger at Burger Studio or a vegetarian sub at Subway, but for vegans, food does not work that way. Plus, like carnivores, vegetarians get tired of having the same thing over and over again.
Here’s the problem for everyone: the price that equals a meal. Typically, a sandwich, a side, and a drink at most fast food restaurants cost more than six dollars. At Chik-fil-A, for instance, a number one—which is the fried chicken sandwich, fries and a medium drink—is around eight dollars. How does Mercer expect us to get a meal with the Meal Equivalency if it only equals six dollars and is bound to go over? If they wanted us to just come to the UC to spend our dining dollars, why did they add this extra piece of stress to the equation?
Mercer requires us to have a meal plan for as long as we live on campus. It is their way of making sure that we all get fed. The caf and the UC are our options, and they are made to help us make what will be future real world decisions. It is what college is built do—to train us for the real world. However, with the disappointing hope of the Meal Equivalency, I have no idea what to say about Mercer and their food services.
It just seems to be another idea that started with good intentions but ended with disappointment.

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All meal plans are not created equal