Saxa Politica: Back to Basics about Food

October 26, 2015

Georgetown Dining’s contract is due for renewal in just over a year, and a holistic conversation about making deep changes to the institutions of on-campus dining is long overdue. I’ve read about the angst many students probably hold about why we only have one dining hall on campus, or why students still can’t use meal plans in Hoya Court (a problem that has persisted for at least eight years by now). A more fundamental problem, however, goes beyond Georgetown Dining. It is the very simple fact that we don’t have much, if any, options to access simple, affordable food on campus.

Granted, free market economics will dictate that fancy Thai restaurants and upmarket grocery stores will surround a college campus that presides in one of the most privileged ZIP codes in the District of Columbia. However, creating opportunities where  students can reliably access affordable sources of food cannot be left out of Georgetown’s multifaceted efforts to make itself into an attractive place for students from all backgrounds.

In an attempt to wring more revenue from its long-suffering freshmen and sophomore customers, Georgetown Dining has added restrictions on the type of meal plan you can buy. In my freshman year, I had the freedom to switch over to the 10-meal weekly plan from the default 14-meal weekly plan, which in the fall of 2013 cost $1,620.47. If I were a freshman today, not only am I not able to switch over to the 10-meal weekly plan, I can only switch to the 14-meal plan from the default 18-meal plan, would be charged $2,328 (a 30 percent increase), and be forced to think of more creative ways to use up my expiring meal swipes.

To most effectively retain its deserting customers, Georgetown Dining needs to invest in the quality and reliability of its food service. After all, that’s what it’s supposed to specialize in. I think it’s telling that compared to the Facebook pages of other colleges’ dining services, Georgetown Dining’s does not contain any photos of the actual food served at Leo’s. Every other initiative that Georgetown Dining conjures, from its giveaways and cooking classes to creating passive-aggressively restrictive meal plan policies, must be peripheral.

As a junior, I realize the convenience of having someone cook food for me everyday so I can spend more time stressing out about my future. If I trust that a meal plan would be able to provide good, wholesome food everyday that is worth the money I pay, I would more likely choose to stay on it. On the other hand, any number of promotional emails about how I should buy a meal plan to learn how to make ramen carbonara and get Starbucks and Cosi gift cards will not persuade me to go any closer to buying any meal plan. In any case, I doubt any student would have chosen to cough up over $2,000 just to indulge in $100 worth of free Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes. (But if you were one of them, I mean, you do you.)

The other non-Aramark places where you can get food are not attractive alternatives. Bulldog Tavern seems like it would be a good spot to hang out for drinks and play trivia games every Thursday night. While it had plenty of potential, it unfortunately has developed a reputation for slow service and providing a perpetually limited menu of unhealthy, deep-fried food.

The Corp should also not be immune to criticism with regards to its contribution of the lack of affordable, reliable food on campus. Last month, The Hoya retracted an op-ed criticizing the Hilltoss after its editors realized that the author had overlooked a survey in 2012 finding that students wanted to buy salads and smoothies from the Corp. However, I think the appearance of that op-ed reflects a more general sentiment that I share about their services, at least with regards to the extent that the Corp remains a place of “students serving students.” For example, a walk in Vital Vittles, with its aisles brimming with cocoa-dusted crunchy banana chips, coconut-flavored popcorn, and three varieties of instant macaroni and cheese, suggests that it is straying from its original purpose of being a full-fledged alternative to the Georgetown area’s grocery stores. MUG’s fridge cabinet frequently only stocks $10 gourmet sandwiches and salads. These luxuries that the Corp certainly deserves to sell should not replace the availability of high quality yet still basic items that the Corp ought to provide.

Ultimately, Georgetown University’s establishments should go back to basics on the food and drink services that they are providing for the community. After all, we need to remember that as college students, or at least for those of us who aren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths, we’ll have to eat to live for a few more years before we can live to eat.


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