Benvenuto: Dartmouth Dining’s Policies Need an Overhaul
With high, unequal pricing across various dining locations on campus, Dartmouth Dining is ripping off students.
It seems like one topic of conversation that all Dartmouth students can agree on is that Dartmouth Dining is ripping us off. From high prices at cafes and other alternative dining locations to being forced into the Class of 1953 Commons for every meal on the weekends, many Dartmouth students would agree that they would like to see change in the dining services offered on campus.
There are four meal plans offered that include meal swipes, but some basic math shows that the prices of these plans do not produce equal value for each swipe. With the 115 Block Plus Plan, you get 115 meal swipes and $475 dining dollars for $2,150. Subtracting the $475 of dining dollars from the total price gives $1,675 for 115 meal swipes, or $14.57 per meal swipe. The 80 Block Plus Plan gives you 80 meal swipes and 725 dining dollars for $2,130. Following the same math, each meal swipe on the 80 Block Plus Plan costs $17.56. Finally, with the On-Campus Apartment Plan, you get 45 meal swipes and $975 of dining dollars for $1,720, which means each meal swipe costs $16.56. It does not seem fair some students are paying different prices for a meal swipe, even though actual meal swipe values are the same for all students. Why should one student pay $17.56 for the same meal that another student pays $14.57 for?
Now that I’ve brought up this inconsistency, Dartmouth Dining will probably respond by raising the cost of every meal swipe across plans to $17.56 under the claim that inflation is high. Across the food industry, companies are blaming their ridiculously high prices on inflation. However, data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that food inflation has remained below 4% since the beginning of this term. The last time Dartmouth Dining was questioned about their increase in prices by The Dartmouth, in Feb. 2023, Dartmouth Dining reported that prices for the food it buys had risen by around 11% over the past year. Now that food inflation has significantly cooled, I think it is time that so do the prices of food across campus. Dartmouth Dining has no justification for why prices continue to rise or remain at the high prices established when inflation has fallen.
Students on the Ivy Unlimited plan face pressure to go to Late Night every night because they are guaranteed $5.25 per night for a Late Night swipe, even if they aren’t hungry then. To make Late Night spending more fair, there should be a system similar to Dining Dollars. Students should get a Late Night fund every term that is equal to the $5.25 per night over the 10 weeks of the term. With the $5.25 per night for a 10-week term, every student has an extra $367.50 to spend on food. Most students do not make the most of how much they are paying for Late Night on the meal plans because they do not go every night. This means that students are essentially wasting $5.25 most nights by not getting any food, even though they are paying for it. By setting aside the $367.50 in a separate fund, students could use the money whenever they please so that they are actually getting food for every dollar spent.
Moreover, another issue with Late Night is that due to the high prices of most items, students must almost always use Dining Dollars in addition to their swipe. Meal swipes at Late Night do not have a high value relative to what can be bought with them, as ordering even a single item often makes students dip into their Dining Dollars. Late Night is an essential safety program — College students often stay up late, and students should have on campus food options after Foco closes at 8:30 p.m. — but the pricing of Late Night allows Dartmouth Dining to take advantage of students and make excessive profits off students.
Ultimately, Dartmouth Dining currently has to make money itself to provide for students. The leaders of Dartmouth Dining need to press the College, including President Sian Beilock, about the need for more funding to solve the issue of overpriced food across campus. Students have been vocal for years about their dissatisfaction and anger towards Dartmouth Dining, so it is time for Dartmouth Dining to finally represent the students they say they care about by standing with students against the College for better funding. If the College truly wants students to be well fed, the administration needs to realize that Dartmouth Dining needs help and cannot be expected to break even every year.
Dartmouth obviously has a very large endowment, with a market value of $7.9 billion. As many others have suggested, money from the returns on this endowment could be used to support mental and physical health on campus. According to President Beilock, “understanding how anxiety and stress play out in the brain and body has been the focus of my research for the past 20 years.” What President Beilock seems to ignore here is that food insecurity and the stress of spending absurd amounts of money on food is extremely relevant to the mental health of students on campus. Not all students can afford easy access to food — nutritious food at that. Beilock stressed the importance of students on their “wellness journeys” in her inaugural speech by discussing mental health resources and housing improvements as a large factor in health, yet she has so far failed to acknowledge the role of nutrition and access to food on the physical and mental health of students.
Promoting equal access to nutritional foods across campus at all dining locations is a huge factor in fostering healthy students. Fresh food options, like the stir fry stations at Class of 1953 Commons and Collis Cafe, are a step in the right direction, but I think that students would still like to see a greater variety of affordable fresh foods, such as more fruit and vegetables, present in dining locations. President Beilock should do all she can to divert more money from Dartmouth’s enormous endowment to dining services to offer easier access to better food to help improve mental and physical health.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.