Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

November 20, 2019

Unlimited Meal Plan, Unlimited Fury

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During our first week as sophomores living on West Campus, before classes started, my roommates and I ate at the dining hall — I kid you not — five times in one day. We were like, “Unlimited swipes? Bet.” During my first week, I even swiped into Becker three times in one day — once for lunch, a second time to grab a banana and a third to get some coffee. With so many different options literally within a five-minute radius from your dorm, what more could you ask for? We were so ready to make the most of the $3,047/semester mandatory unlimited swipes house meal plan. And now, as our first semester as sophomores draws to an end, the only thing I ended up making the most of (maybe a little too much) were my Big Red Bucks.

So why am I down to $28.56 in BRBs when we haven’t even hit Thanksgiving break yet? What happened to my fevered West Campus dining hall hopping days where I milked all the money Cornell was forcing us to pay when all we really wanted was to live in a convenient place close to campus? Well, I quickly learned as my weeks grew busier that the West Campus dining hall system is 100% not worth the money, and no amount of meal swipes can make it be so. So what’s specifically wrong with the West Campus meal plan? The dining halls are actually more inconvenient than convenient, the food is repetitive and definitely not worth the money and the system makes you feel guilty for eating anywhere else.

The fact that we are paying for an unlimited amount of meals swipes makes no sense when during the day, five days a week, most of us are on central during lunch time. Who walks down the slope, eats on West and then walks back up in between classes, especially if you only have a 30-60 minute gap? If that’s you, color me impressed. And yes, the house meal plan includes swipes at Okenshields so if I really didn’t want to go down to West I could just eat there. Well, if I was going to eat at Okenshields anyways, then I could do so with a less expensive meal plan like the 10 meals or 7 meals per week option.

The other time of the day you could potentially make use of the unlimited swipes is eating breakfast every morning before class. But let’s be honest, if you have an 8 a.m. or even a 9 a.m. are you really waking up extra early to get food before class? And even then, say you get up early to get breakfast every morning. Are you just going to eat the same thing everyday? The breakfast foods on West are so repetitive and even more so than for the other meals. Switching off between dry home fries, even dryer and frankly extremely bland french toast, thin flavorless pancakes and suspicious play-dough looking scrambled eggs is a little unfair, especially when we’re paying so much money. And what’s worse is that only Bethe and Becker serve hot breakfast while Keeton, Cook and Rose just lay out cold flaky pastries and fruit. So if you live in one of those houses and don’t have time to eat out at a different dining hall, you’re in for a depressing morning. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather grab a delicious Route 32 bagel with melt-in-your-mouth cheese, soft and fresh avocado and perfectly grilled juicy chicken from Bus Stop Bagels than eat drier-than-the-Sahara home fries for the third day in a row.

Speaking of a lack of variety, why do all of the dining halls close at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. except Cook House? What if I have an evening review session, a meeting or practice? Am I supposed to only eat at Cook? I would hope not, especially when I’m paying $3,047/semester for a plan that I didn’t want but was forced to get in return for convenient housing. Not to mention that an individual meal swipe at a dining hall costs around $16, so it would just be better to eat out at an on-campus cafe or in Collegetown where you can get better tasting food for $7-10.

And is it just me, or do you also feel guilty when you go for a night out in Collegetown with your friends and eat dinner there instead of at the dining hall? Just last week, the guilt ate away at me as I ate a deliciously warm and hearty budae jjigae at Koko (my favorite meal to get in Collegetown). I can’t help but get distracted by the fact that every time I eat out, I’m basically spending an additional $16 on the meal since I wasted a meal swipe opportunity. $16 adds up fast and I’d rather enjoy all the fruits Collegetown eateries have to offer without being served an additional side dish of guilt.

I know I should limit the amount of times I go out to eat in Collegetown. But it’s hard when you have friends who are upperclassmen who spontaneously want to go out and you don’t want to be left out of the festivities. Even when I eat on West with my friends on a Friday night, the atmosphere just isn’t the same. At the dining halls, because they are so conveniently located, it’s easy to feel pressured to quickly eat and then head back to your dorm and do work. Thus, the priceless moments you’d make with your non-West friends that help shape your college experience just aren’t present when you eat on West. And you can’t even fully let go and eat out in Collegetown without the guilt of wasting money weighing down on your conscience.

After quickly realizing that the mandatory meal plan makes West Campus 100% not worth living on again, my roommates and I started the perilous and stressful search of finding decently priced, decently convenient and decent quality off-campus housing for the next school year. Which is even harder than I already made it sound. The fact that the house meal plan which is supposed to be one of the best options for Cornell Dining and it’s so seriously flawed shows that at the end of it all, Cornell’s just out to take our money, showing little regard for our quality of housing and dining. A true disappointment considering how much money the University rakes in being an Ivy League institution.