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Ana Maria Cornea / Gavel Media

Food Insecurity at BC

One of the biggest lies about Boston College is the campus food. BC Dining boasts of national rankings on multiple sources, placing #7 on The Daily Meal’s 2018 ranking of best food in American colleges, or a more recent #19 on College Consensus’s “25 Best College Dining Halls.” But students seemingly experience something different: dry chicken breast, hair discovered in pasta, or recent additions of nuts in many of its bakery goods that are not friendly for those with nut allergies. 

Worst of all, BC Dining is expensive. Meal plans are not based on daily swipes, but on price. BC markets this system as similar to a debit card—a system of “You will only get charged for what you purchase.” This system that makes you pay for every side of vegetables, apples, or packets of peanut butter makes BC students prone to food insecurity.

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of steady access to enough food for an active, healthy life. For many BC students, food insecurity occurs because of this “debit card” dining system that can, and has, drained many students’ meal plan money before the end of a semester. BC dining’s pricing is at times outrageous—a small snack of a bowl of fruit and yogurt can cost around $6-7. For an entity that also claims to promote healthy eating among students, this kind of pricing is unsustainable for those who do want to incorporate fruit as a source of fiber in their diets. Thus, it is much more feasible for students to replace a bowl of fruit with a cheaper muffin or a piece of cake. Of course, there is nothing wrong with eating these, but it creates less choices for students who need to consider pricing before health. Take sushi nights for an example: for those days that the residential dining halls host sushi pop-ups, students line up to use their Residential Dining Bucks and save on the flex bucks which are usually used for sushi. But a pack of six sushi pieces can cost up to $15. BC Dining’s pricing is no joke, especially compared to the often skimpy amount it provides for each meal.

Starting this academic year, BC Dining introduced a three-plan level expansion to the dining plan: light, base, and premium. The three plans each have a total semester value of $3,100, $3,400, and $3,700, respectively. This includes the residential meal plan that can be used at residential dining locations such as Lower Live and Stuart Hall, as well as a smaller portion of Residential Flex Bucks that account for locations like The Market and Hillside. Starbucks locations like the Chocolate Bar use Residential Flex Bucks, while Late Night at the Rat use Residential Dining Bucks. This expansion did allow for a better gauge on the fact that not all students’ eating habits are the same—some require more food to sustain themselves while others would prefer a smaller meal plan so that there is not a large sum left over each semester. Because of many complaints on this over the years, BC Dining’s efforts to accommodate show through this new change.

Students often need two bowls of food or two types of dishes to have a filling meal, so it’s inevitable that some students run out of dining money, perhaps even weeks before the end of a semester. Exacerbating this problem is the constant rise of certain meals BC provides, like the popular Thai Coconut Shrimp Bowl that definitely added on a dollar or two on its pricing compared to the previous year. Moreover, the existing wealth gap among BC students is unaccounted for. Some students may need a premium dining plan to meet their dining habits, but cannot afford to do so. Starting this school year, federal financial aid allows for a student to eat three meals per day, corresponding to a federal regulation. While this is a step towards acknowledging wealth gaps and combats food insecurity to account for consistent access to food, it does not mean that students who receive financial aid are met with a fulfilling amount of food because of BC Dining’s pricing system. 

BC Dining’s system allows for constant rises in prices and unfair pricing on certain foods that prohibit students from eating meals that they prefer over cheaper options. The system in place furthers this issue for students who consume more, or choose to eat certain meals that are more costly, and thus run out of dining money. Having to budget each meal is time-consuming and anxiety-inducing. It is unfair for these students to have to resort to buying food off-campus for a dorm designed without kitchens, or for them to rely on their friends or other students to get swipes at the dining halls. 

Moreover, food insecurity is a problem that is much more prevalent and serious than what goes on in BC. Exacerbated by food deserts and insufficient food aid programs like SNAP, millions of Americans experience food insecurity in ways that are devastating and in no way on the same scale as what goes on in the BC bubble. As important as it is to call for a better system implemented in BC Dining that overturns the current one, it’s also vital to use these sentiments to acknowledge and solve the real-life problems of food insecurity that plague many Americans today.