Questions surround college meal plan requirements: College calls dining “integral” to residential experience

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Upper Dining Hall in Farinon.

Claire Grunewald

While the college offers various dining options for students on campus, those with certain dietary needs said they feel their options were limited when it came to eating a healthy, balanced diet.

“A big issue always was just finding things to eat that were nutritious, and a lot of times I felt this burden whenever I saw that I could physically eat [something] that was in my eating restrictions I would eat so much of it, and it was so unhealthy,” Katie Hill ’20 said.

Hill is vegan and can “absolutely not eat dairy,” she said. At times, however, Hill found that even things labeled as “vegan” in the dining hills were not within her eating restrictions either.

“Even if something says its vegan, I will always ask if it has dairy in it, because I would probably say one out of three times there is,” Hill said. “There have been so many times I have eaten something and not asked about it and gotten sick.”

As a sophomore, Hill is required to have at least a 14-meals-per-week meal plan. However, Hill currently lives off-campus in her sorority house, Delta Gamma, which has a kitchen, and found that cooking for herself made it easier to monitor the food she was eating. As such, Hill had to petition with accessibility services to reduce her meal-plan to seven-meals-per-week.

“The number of students who have food allergies that are so severe that their needs can’t be met by Dining Services is very small,” Annette Diorio, Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students, wrote in an email. “Students would follow the regular accommodation process and submit supporting information about the allergy which will be evaluated.”

The process for receiving dining accommodations is multi-step. Students must first contact accessibility services, apply to accessibility services and then be approved by the Accessibility Services Coordinator. An email is then sent to the Director of Dining Services and Campus Executive Chef containing the particular accommodations. The student will then meet with the Campus Executive Chef to coordinate necessary arrangements.

For Hill, applying for accommodations involved a few extra steps. Hill said she could have talked with the Campus Executive Chef, who would have planned out meals for her every single time she went. However, Hill felt knowing exactly when and where she’d be dining every day wasn’t “feasible.”

Instead, Hill received an evaluation from Director of Health Services and College Physician Jeffery Goldstein at Bailey’s Health Center. Goldstein then presented his evaluation to Accessibility Services. Finally, Hill’s dietary needs were deemed to be enough to allow her to go to a 7-meals-per-week dining plan.

Hill’s accommodation is not common as she is a sophomore residing in an off-campus house that does not have a “private kitchen.” In even fewer cases are students able to refrain from the meal plan entirely.

“There are a very small number of students who have allergies that are very severe or for whom we have determined that an exemption from the meal plan is warranted but for almost all students, some participation in the meal plan is required,” Diorio wrote.

Business Services Director Rosemary Bader said that the main reason for this is that dining is viewed as an important part of the campus community.

“As part of the College’s Connected Communities Program, Lafayette Dining Services provides more than nutritious and appetizing food, the College’s restaurants are extensions of the classrooms on campus; teaching about nutrition and sustainability, providing cooking lessons and recipes, and allowing you to experience various cultures through food,” Bader wrote in an email.

Hill said that while she does enjoy the socializing aspect, she felt being on a larger meal plan was a waste of money since she was unable to eat the food she was paying for.

Per school year, it costs students $5,740 for 20 meals per week, $4,700 for 14 meals per week, and $2,662 for seven meals per week.

“A simple division of the plan costs by the number of meals makes it appear that meals are less expensive if you buy a larger plan. However, each plan shares equally in the underlying fixed cost for operating the facilities with the same meal costs added to each plan according to the number of meals,” Bader wrote.

“Students on the 20 meal plan pay the least per meal cost as the associated overhead is distributed among the largest number of meals,” Diorio added.

Jane Ferguson ’21 is a vegetarian and currently has 20 meals per week. Ferguson that while it’s easy to find vegetarian options in Upper Farinon or Marquis, Gilbert’s Cafe and Simon’s cafe often have only one or two options for students who don’t eat meat.

Ferguson is living in the McKelvy House next year, which has a kitchen in the basement. However, as the kitchen is not private, Ferguson will only be permitted to go down to the 14-meals-per-week option if she wishes to do so.

“I would love to cook for myself,” Ferguson added.