The Case For Liberalizing Kenyon’s Meal Plan
By Alexander Variano
Hopefully you enjoyed some good food over winter break, whether in the comforts of your mother’s kitchen or at a local favorite with some friends. If you partook in the latter, maybe your friends from other colleges talked about the culinary options offered by their school or its location.
Even if they grumbled about the grub served in one college cafeteria, they likely enjoyed the option to eat in another dining hall or at an off-campus establishment. Almost all college students in America today are empowered to choose where, when and what they eat, and enjoy high standards of quality and variety as institutions of higher education devise inventive meal plans and nearby competitors offer compelling alternatives.
But Kenyon students lack comparable freedom because the school remains committed to an antiquated meal plan that virtually eliminates individual choice when it comes to dining options, and therefore the incentive to produce appealing food, too. Comprehensive meal plan reform would fast improve the quality, variety and value of dining options for Kenyon students.
An unusual characteristic of the meal plan is the student body’s requirement to buy it. For 2011- 2012, all students must pay a $2,755 board charge per semester (unless they can sufficiently demonstrate a gluten allergy). In addition to mandating over $5,500 in costs to students, the college is further restrictive in offering Peirce Servery as the only location to eat.
This makes Kenyon atypical of its peers: most schools do not require students to purchase the of- ficial meal plan, or perhaps if they do, they offer a variety of options that allow students more control over where, when and what they eat. For students living in apartments, it may be sensible to eschew a meal plan and encourage their parents to pay them the equivalent value in cash, promising to buy groceries to cook at home (though maybe in reality running up the tab at the nearest bar).
In other words, Kenyon is unique in forcing students to buy a meal plan for a single dining location that offers a lackluster selection. Even if you appreciate efforts to provide quality local granola and yogurt, or if the highlight of your week is the unexpected surprise of a burger blowout, Peirce food is seldom lauded for high quality. Unfortunate as this is, it is hardly surprising: with the food service provider secure in a multiyear contract (though renegotiation is currently pending for renewal of AVI Foodystems’ present contract) and the college awash in mandatory board fees, lack of competition for students’ food dollars is the obvious source of culinary malaise on this campus.
If Kenyon simply stopped mandating that students pay board fees to eat in Pierce, the school would make the first great step in the journey towards freer dining in Gambier. Students could deposit cash on their KCards and simply swipe when they enter Peirce if they remain satisfied with the convenience and variety of AVI’s offerings; alternatively, they could enjoy a quarter-pound chuck at the Deli, or shop for groceries at the Market to cook for themselves in their apartments. It’s possible little would change if Kenyon students are truly happy with the current state of affairs, perhaps only marginally adjusting their behavior to indulge in an occasional ice latte at Middle Ground. But common sentiment about the quality of food on campus and simple consumer choice theory suggest that the freedom resulting from meal plan reform would only ameliorate the Kenyon dining experience. TKO