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End mandatory meal plans or end Sodexo

It is Saturday. I am running dangerously low on dining points and eating an average of one real meal per day. I still have five more swipes on my 12-a-week plan, but there is no way I will finish them all before Sunday. Even if I could, I would never want to.

I would not choose to live or eat like this, but as all of Brandeis’ students living in on-campus housing know, I was never given a choice.

Out of the outlandish $70,000 premium Brandeis expects from students living on-campus, a whopping $3,000 goes towards mandatory meal plans from a provider that most people don’t like.

Mandatory meal plans are result of a 2013 contract with Sodexo, a company with ties to various private prisons worldwide. To fulfill this contract, Brandeis essentially forces as many students as they can to pay exorbitant fees for subpar food.

Students living in most dorms have a choice between four “traditional” meal plans, but none of the choices are worthwhile unless you actually enjoy Sodexo food. Want to save money by getting a smaller meal plan? Good luck with that! With only $390 between the top and bottom tier traditional plans, downsizing does not make much of a difference.

Overcooked vegetables, undercooked meat and poor options are the staples of Sodexo’s operation. It is no wonder that, along with frequent comments on the dull, under-seasoned taste, food poisoning complaints are rampant across the student body. Almost everybody has heard horror stories from friends about an unassuming trip to Sherman or Usdan turning into a digestive ordeal.

While food poisoning is arguably the most concerning issue with Sodexo, poor quality and taste are still annoying.

Some people might say Sodexo is not so bad, but, from the perspective of a person who was lucky enough to eat properly cooked and seasoned foods growing up, it is far from good enough.

Properly seasoning food did not seem like it could be intimidating or difficult until I came to Brandeis last year. Food here either has too much salt or no seasoning at all. Personalized stir-fry is the only dish I have had here that consistently tastes good and, luckily, we can add our own sriracha and soy sauce.

In addition, Sodexo offers too few options for vegetarians and people with more specialized diets. At times, generic salads are the only decent vegetarian option—and good luck if you do not like lettuce!  I am tired of having soggy tofu slathered in watery barbecue sauce as my only protein choice and I am tired of Sodexo putting chicken in the pan with every good pasta instead of on the side. Not to mention, tomatoes and black beans are in practically every vegetarian dish—and undeservingly so.

I find getting enough protein is especially hard with the fear of food poisoning from undercooked meat looming, including within tofu. Since I have to limit my soy intake, Sodexo seemingly adds a lot of weird ingredients to classic dishes that make them even less appetizing.

The Simple Servings initiative has good intentions for students with allergies, though the Lower Usdan stir fry station was not gluten-free as claimed—at least as recently as last month. The stir fry station is the most consistent source of decent food, but even still it is not entirely reliable.

On the rare occasion that I use a meal swipe instead of using up my points at the C-Store or starving, I check the Sherman and Usdan menus. Even if something sounds palatable online, it does not always translate that way through the Sodexo kitchens. I’m usually left with only fruit and cookies to eat. Either those or some random dish that was not on the menu, like “Cavatappi.” I still do not know what that is and, no, I do not want to find out.

I enjoy a variety of international cuisines—however Sodexo happens to serve the worst parts of all of them. I know it is not my pickiness that makes Sodexo a poor provider for the amount of money I have to pay. Also, I should not have to sacrifice my diet for the convenience of living on-campus.

Administrators argue that there is not enough room in the annual budget to change the dining situation right now, but hopefully they will consider students’ perspectives when the time comes to make a new supplier deal. Tuition costs us so much; we should at least get our money’s worth. 

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