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Hopes for the new dining contract and selection

We, the Editorial Board of The Brandeis Hoot, would like to share our hopes for the future of Brandeis Dining Services and the new contract with a food vendor in light of this week’s vendor bid presentations. Dining is a large part of student life, and should be given careful attention. We understand that no dining service can be perfect, and that no matter what happens, someone will be dissatisfied with the result. We believe, however, that if the university considers factors beyond simply the price of each proposal and listens to students’ oft-vocalized needs and complaints, Brandeis can solve the most important issues regarding dining on campus. The food vendor presentations that took place this week reflect Brandeis’ interest and dedication in hearing student feedback about the new contract, and we hope this trend continues as the process moves forward.

While adopting the most cost-effective plan is important, food quality and selection is equally relevant. Additionally, Brandeis has specific food-related needs, such as multiple kosher options in dining halls and other food retail outlets like the C-Store and Upper Usdan. When choosing the new vendor, the administration should keep in mind not only the importance of kosher options but also clearly labeled options for students with allergies, sensitivities (such as to dairy or gluten), vegetarians and vegans, among others. In addition, maintaining quality and variety of food for students with different dietary restrictions should be a priority when deciding on a vendor for Brandeis.

While the dining halls have improved their labeling and recently expanded their options, including the additions of the new vegan action station in Lower Usdan and the made-to-order stir-fry in Sherman, vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food options remain limited. Many students also mention a lack of culturally-sensitive and diverse options in dining halls, though there has been an improvement in recent months with the collaboration between cultural clubs and the Student Union’s Social Justice and Diversity Committee. 

It would also be beneficial to students to be able to use meal swipes in more locations. Regardless of who the new vendor is, we hope that they will improve and expand the choices for students with dietary restrictions and offer these options in dining locations beyond the dining hall. While there is a meal swipe to-go option at the C-Store, meal swipe options are limited to sandwiches and salads. Meal plans are expensive, and if they are mandatory for all students living on campus, there should be more food options to meet students’ needs and preferences.

We also believe that it is not acceptable to require all students living on campus to buy a meal plan. Students should be given the option to decide whether or not they want to purchase a meal plan. Because all students living on campus are required to buy a meal plan even if they do not need or want one, some decide to eat elsewhere. This means that the food bought for these students goes to waste. We understand that food vendors, by nature, are for-profit organizations, but firmly believe that profit should not be made at the expense of students’ tuition or campus sustainability. 

We believe that the university should offer more choices in dining plans for on-campus students to select from, including an option for students with severe dietary restrictions to be exempt from buying a dining plan. Additionally, students who live in residence halls with kitchens should have the option to pick a reduced meal plan or abstain from purchasing a meal plan at all. Peer institutions such as Boston University and Boston College allow students who live in apartment-style housing to opt out of a dining plan. The current meal plans, including block plans for students living in apartment-style housing or off-campus, are still too abundant in price and quantity, leaving some students with many unused meal swipes at the end of the semester. We suggest offering more flexible meal plans, including a points-only option for students who wish to cook their own meals and buy snacks on campus. 

Although there is still some time before the spring semester comes to an end, the administration has a lot of decisions to make about the renewal of the dining contract. We hope that Brandeis administrators will continue to seek student input, as they have with the vendor presentations, and prioritize student needs over revenue.

Editor’s Note: Editors Tim Dillon, Victoria Morrongiello and Sasha Skarboviychuk covered the vendor presentations and did not contribute to the writing or editing of this editorial. 

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