Photo by Kyle West
By: Rida Pasha
McMaster Hospitality Services offers meal express plans for purchase to all students, staff and faculty. Users can swipe their McMaster University ID card to easily access the range of food choices on-campus, as well as at participating restaurants off-campus.
While this may be a convenient solution for those that want to purchase food on-campus, it can pose a problem for many students living in residence.
Each student living on-campus is required to purchase a mandatory meal plan ranging from $2,975 to $4,735. For many students who are unable or don’t prefer to cook or store food, this meal plan can be a relief.
Meal plan options range from minimum, light, regular and varsity, each increasing in price, allowing students to choose the option that best suits their needs. Each plan is suggested based on how often the student is on campus, how much they regularly eat and how much they can afford.
Since the meal plan is paid in advance, many students and parents feel a sense of security knowing that they food is always available throughout the entire academic year.
With tuition and residence fees on the rise, forcing the purchase of a meal plan places an unnecessary financial strain on students. This can create a boundary against students being able to live on-campus.
Additionally, mandatory meal plans limit students’ options to eat as the plan restricts students’ to eating on-campus with only a few participating off-campus restaurants.
While McMaster does try to offer a variety of food options, eating at the same places daily can be tiring for many students, especially for those that are on campus during weekends and only go home during long breaks.
The meal plan becomes an unnecessary hassle for those that seek to try out new restaurants, prefer to eat off-campus or even just wish to eat out less.
Looking more deeply into the structure of meal plans, the money within the paid meal plans are divided into two categories: basic and freedom.
The basic account is nonrefundable and is used for most on-campus locations. The freedom account is fully refundable and is used for specific off-campus restaurants, confectionary, personal grooming items and convenience products.
There is more money allocated to the basic account than the freedom account since students are likely to be on-campus more.
However, when the freedom account money runs out, students can’t transfer money from the basic to the freedom account in order to take full advantage of their meal plan.
This means that when the freedom account is depleted, students either have to add additional money into that account or can no longer use their meal plan at participating off-campus restaurants.
Students are then left with only on-campus food options, limiting the variety of food available using their already-expensive meal plan.
At the very least, students living in Bates and Mary Keyes residences should be able to make the decision to opt-out of mandatory meal plans, since they have apartment and suite-style rooms equipped with kitchens.
Each kitchen includes a fridge, stove, an oven in Bates, a microwave in Mary Keyes and cupboard space to store food, as well as a full-sized fridge shared amongst the roommates.
Although Hospitality Services offers a reduced meal plan for students living in these residences, the amenities provided make it reasonable for students to live on-campus without requiring a meal plan. Reduced meal plan are still, at a minimum, an added $2,975 cost.
Unlike McMaster, the University of Waterloo allows students with a personal kitchen in their residence to choose whether they would like to purchase a meal plan or not.
Following suit, McMaster University needs to consider the circumstances and preference of students by making all meal plans optional.