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Opinion: Why am I paying $2,840 on a meal plan at ASU for food I don't like?

ASU should make meal plans optional in consideration of students who don't like the food, who have dietary restrictions or want to spend their money elsewhere


ASU's dining hall meal plans are mandatory, expensive, inaccessible and average at best

When I opened the finance tab in my student portal and saw the $2,840 charge for my semester-long meal plan, I was once again reminded of the waste of money that are the dining options at ASU.

Last semester I made the mistake of choosing the unlimited meal plan with limitless swipes and $300 in M&G, which I paid $3,015 for. All first-year students and upper-division or graduate students living in traditional residence halls are required to purchase a meal plan. Little did I know, the real limit to that meal plan would be the quality of the food itself. I quickly realized the dining hall was not great. Not terrible, mind you. But not great. 

As the semester progressed, the quality seemed to get worse. In the few days before winter break, the dining hall had cut its food offerings down to sparse, precooked food sitting under a heat lamp along with toast and bagels with no cream cheese. As a consequence, I ended up living off of takeout and food from the market I hadn't budgeted for. 

This experience pushed me to opt for the cheaper 14-swipe-per-week plan with $425 M&G, but more importantly, it left me with a few questions. Why am I forced to pay for a meal plan that I don't end up using? Do the dining halls actually listen to student feedback? What do other students think?

I reached out to the University for comment but did not receive answers to my questions.

At a forum hosted on the Downtown Phoenix campus in January, representatives associated with Sun Devil Hospitality, previously known as Sun Devil Dining, responded to student concerns about food quality, specifically finding hair in food multiple times, being served undercooked chicken and getting sick. In response, Bryant Newman, Sun Devil Dining resident district manager, apologized and implored students to give instant feedback.

"Give us that feedback," Newman said. "If it's something that you see or you're getting something that's not of quality, let us know right away and we'll address it immediately."

But do the dining halls actually listen to this feedback?

Jordyn Walhof, a senior studying public policy, political science and anthropology, was in attendance at the forum. Walhof has attended forums in the past and wasn't optimistic about the implementation of feedback. 

"Every semester, they tell us that they're going to do different things and maybe one or two of them have happened," Walhof said. 

While dining staff might say student feedback is vital, the reality does not entirely reflect this. Big promises are great, but when you have not been delivering on the small, important details, it's worth stepping back and addressing those first. 

UA has optional meal plans; however, as of next fall, meal plans will be required for freshmen. A similar plan at UA to my meal plan at ASU would cost $100 less while giving me the same amount of meal swipes per week and $375 "Dining Dollars," UA's equivalent to M&G, when split into two semesters. 

READ MORE: Opinion: On-campus living expenses prohibit equal opportunity for education

NAU offers "regular" and "platinum" options for its meal plans with 14 and 19 meals a week. A regular plan similar to mine would cost $65 less and give me the same amount of swipes and $100 Dining Dollars, while a platinum plan similar to mine would cost $73 more, also with $100 Dining Dollars.

Most colleges explain mandatory meal plans by arguing it is for the student's good. According to Best Colleges in 2022, required meal plans for first-year students makes sure they have access to a sufficient amount of food while studying and minimize the amount of food and cooking in residential halls.

Aleeza Feffer, a freshman studying biomedical sciences who was not at the forum, deals with a multitude of dietary restrictions.

"They're (dining halls) mid," she said. "I get the Barrett dining hall which is a little bit nicer, but from what I've eaten, nothing's been amazing and it's really hard for me to eat because I have dietary restrictions."

Feffer said information on food ingredients at the dining halls is hard to find, making it difficult to find options that fit.

Sun Devil Hospitality has a website that features daily menus with food ingredients for all dining halls but "it's never accurate," Feffer said.

The website reads, "Due to ongoing supply chain disruptions requiring ingredient substitutions, allergen and ingredient information on menu boards, recipe cards, and website may not be current. If you or someone in your party has a food allergy, please contact a food service manager, chef or dietitian on site."

Not only are students paying for food they don't especially like, but students are also paying for food that does not always accommodate them. So again I ask, why? 

It’s important to note that, at the University, you can get an exemption from the meal plans, albeit, these exemptions are considered for those with either a documented medical condition or a religious dietary observance. So students like me with neither of these prerequisites would not be allowed to opt-out.

To me, it seems like the answer is obvious: make meal plans optional. Allow students like me, who don't like the food, and students like Feffer, who can't eat all of the food, to make our own financial decisions.

Edited by Kate Duffy, Reagan Priest, Piper Hansen, Jasmine Kabiri, Greta Forslund and Luke Chatham.

Reach the columnist at and follow @swmcgeemedia on Twitter.

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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