The transition from home to college life requires a significant reworking of eating routines and habits. Whether it’s freshman or senior year, for those who are dependent on dining halls, meal time is no longer as easy as meandering to the kitchen to eat something that is already prepared or cooking something specific. Readjustment to college dining still remains a biannual struggle for me, even as someone who doesn’t struggle with any mental obstacles surrounding eating. Without fail, during the first few weeks of each semester, I find myself hyper-fixated on certain elements of my diet such as vegetable intake, caloric value, and fat content, among others. Although I am cognizant of this behavior and have the skills to self-manage, I recognize that my situation may not be the reality for all students, especially on a campus that is keenly aware of personal health.
Although BC Dining routinely dies on the hill that the a-la-carté system is the best way to provide students with a variety of options from “an expansive menu selection”, assigning dollar values to food items can have devastating mental consequences. The general structure of the Boston College dining system presents additional obstacles regarding the transition from home to college eating. A swipe system would remove the additional burden of cost from the dining process.
BC students already have enough academic and social stressors competing for mental energy, and, quite frankly, managing the allotted $2,911 per semester for the mandatory Residential Meal Plan does not need to be added to that list. Furthermore, the a-la-carté system encourages students to make food choices based on monetary restrictions rather than cravings or dietary concerns. Considering the fact that BC students already tend to make health-conscious choices, in conjunction with the higher cost of options like the fruit and salad bars, it is not hard to imagine that this confluence of factors can lead to the development or resurgence of unhealthy behaviors. If BC Dining implemented a swipe system, students could “swipe” into dining halls and would have the freedom to grab as much food as they want, without the stress of prices. This system would give students the flexibility to make choices based on cravings instead of financial restrictions.
A swipe system could also have numerous benefits in terms of the overall dining experience. Any seasoned college student will tell you that time management is the ultimate key to college success. Accounting for how much time is required to eat meals is a crucial factor of the time management equation. Speaking from personal experience, meals at my house are an efficient affair. From the first bite to clearing the table, the entire endeavor takes no longer than thirty minutes. However, eating meals at BC is a far more time-consuming undertaking that requires students to account for the commute to the dining hall, as well as time spent in line. During peak hours, when traffic in the dining hall is at its highest, lines both outside and inside the dining hall reach lengths of daunting proportions. For students who are pressed for time, the wait itself can deter them from eating meals. Furthermore, for students that may struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food or eating disorders, this additional, time-related obstacle could further hinder meal consumption altogether. Because the a-la-carté system requires that each individual item be rung up by an employee of BC Dining at checkout, congestion within the dining hall is unavoidable. But, if BC were to implement a swipe system, the need for an additional line and the subsequent wait time would be eradicated altogether. By eliminating the wait time, students would be relieved of the time-related stresses of dining, thus creating a more hospitable dining environment overall.
Although I am undoubtedly critical of the structure of BC Dining, I also appreciate the time and consideration it takes to create and execute a dining plan for the entire BC community. However, I do strongly believe that BC Dining must utilize a more nuanced approach to feeding the BC community that considers the impact that the system’s structure has on students’ stress levels and attitudes toward food. The BC community is one that prides itself on the compassionate consideration of all and I’m sure this attitude can be carried over into dining halls across campus.
Graphic by Meegan Minahan / Heights Editor