Emerson bites off less than it can chew

by Charlie Greenwald / Beacon Correspondent • September 24, 2014

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Portion sizes at campus dining facilities (like this one from the dining hall) leave much to be desired.
Portion sizes at campus dining facilities (like this one from the dining hall) leave much to be desired.

While some college students live exclusively on ramen noodles and Capri Suns, many others rely on Sodexo, Emerson’s food provider, for their daily dining. We are lucky to enjoy so many eateries with kind employees and specific environmental goals around our school’s space-conscious campus. 

In the past few weeks, however, I’ve realized that Emerson’s dining options expose the college’s fundamental misunderstanding of the food needs of its students. Some of Sodexo’s practices—primarily its portion sizes and prices—are completely nonsensical.

The food itself leaves much to be desired. The vegan ravioli I had for dinner last week at The Max Cafe, though packaged in a fine, sturdy box, held just enough food for Stuart Little. Sodexo’s high prices aren’t unique to Piano Row; the Paramount Cafe charges five dollars for just four mozzarella sticks, and things aren’t much better at the renovated EmCaf, now partnered with Einstein Bros. Bagels. While the adult customers that live and work outside of Emerson may happily sip their coffee, the new space isn’t conducive to a college student’s budget. The revamped menu is completely divorced from EmCaf’s previously college-friendly prices. These rising costs—for example, $6 for a pizza bagel—don’t require an Einstein-level brain to understand how completely out of touch they are with the budgets of many members of our college.

Even the dining hall is not a viable alternative to the lofty costs of the food one can purchase with Board Bucks. Unless you have the more expensive unlimited meal plan, your DH swipe count isn’t all that high. According to figures available on the Emerson College Dining Services site, the most common meal plan, the Flex Plan, provides 100 DH swipes, along with $650 board bucks, to pay with over 101 school days this semester, after subtracting the days during Thanksgiving Break when the dorms are closed. By my calculations, that averages out to just under one DH swipe a day and approximately 6.4 board bucks a day.

As a junior that lives and works on campus as a resident assistant in Piano Row, often staying on campus early for long hours, I watched as my Board Bucks quickly zeroed out and I had to rely solely on the dining hall. With the now-measly portion sizes and lofty prices, I’m not sure where a student in a similar position will turn other than off-campus eating options, many of which serve good meals but for inflated prices because of our campus’ prime real estate in an expensive neighborhood of Boston. Board Bucks are easier to spend than actual cash because having your card swiped at the Little Building’s C-Store or Paramount Café feels much less financially impactful than emptying your wallet to pay for a Naked brand kale juice smoothie.

Ultimately, I’m not surprised that the administration misunderstands our eating habits. This is a college, after all, and decades worth of movies and TV shows chronicling these years spent living in dorms speak to the ubiquitousness of their gross, greasy food. Still, we should expect better from administrative officials and students to maximize the dining experience for everyone that frequents our campus restaurants.

Anyway, that’s all. I’m off to Iron Wok, where at least you get your money’s worth.