No Money, No Food: How YU’s New Meal Plan is Harming Students
As the summer came to an end and the new school year began, one could sense a number of clashing feelings in the air: excitement, the unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and looming anxiety about what the new course load would bring. I was eager to dive right back into my studies and see my friends and classmates once again. I was looking forward to being back in Manhattan on my own. I have to admit that I was also slightly excited to go back to the dorms — an unpopular opinion among most YU students.
What I did not expect or anticipate was that the money dedicated to all my future meals this semester would be spliced — practically in half — and that I’d only be given the value for half of what I paid.
Just four days before the start of the semester, Yeshiva University Dining Services sent out an email describing a new meal plan that was to be put in place starting this semester. YU Dining Services has typically offered two meal plans to students who live on campus — reduced and standard — while those who commute have a $400 per semester plan. The new meal plan includes a “Membership Fee,” which would be “used to pay the fixed, non-food costs of the Dining Halls,” as stated in the email sent to all YU students. Once the “Membership Fee” is paid, the student is a member of the new Yeshiva University Undergraduate Dining Club, where the student can purchase tax-free and significantly-discounted food. After the deduction of the $675 “Membership Fee,” it leaves those on the reduced meal plan with $825 and those on the standard meal plan with $1075 to spend for the rest of the semester. Furthermore, those on the commuter plan do not receive any of the benefits of the Dining Club.
With this “Membership Fee” for someone on the reduced meal plan, 45% of his or her money is taken away from what is supposed to be solely dedicated to food purchases. The so-called “significant discounts” only range from 35% to 40%, a 5%-10% disparity from what was taken away for the “Membership Fee.” Additionally, part of the caf money can be used for restaurants, but those purchases are not be discounted. Thus, the cost of an average meal purchased from a restaurant costs two days’ worth of meals in the cafeteria.
As described by the YU Dining Services, the Dining Club was introduced to YU “in response to student feedback to ensure food pricing [that] is easier to understand and to better help students manage their budgets.” As soon as I read the email, I planned out an entire semester’s meals and calculated how much I’d be able to spend to last until the fall semester ends. After spending hours trying to fit in meals with some degree of variability, I calculated that if I eat the bare minimum, I would still have to add an additional $45 to my account. My meal breakdown did not include any snacks, beverages, lunches on Sundays or Fridays, breakfast on Sundays, any condiments (such as cream cheese or peanut butter), any transactions in restaurants, or the majority of the semester’s Shabbat meals. The meal breakdown can be found here.
Because of the lack of price labels on the majority of the food in the cafeterias, it has become very difficult for students to budget their meals. Last year, most students would agree that the food in the cafeteria was notoriously overpriced. This year, ALL students would agree that the food in the cafeteria is exorbitantly overpriced. A number of students have told me that they have already gone through 60% of the money on their caf card in a matter of five weeks and don’t know how they’ll be able to afford food for the remaining 11 weeks of the semester. No matter how well one budgets him or herself, it has become nearly impossible to eat properly and maintain a healthy, nutritious lifestyle under the new system.
Additionally, a sizeable minority of students are on a gluten-free diet, and thus rely entirely on protein-rich foods and vegetables to get the nutrition they need. However, these foods are exponentially higher in price than other foods in the cafeterias, and so these students are running out of their caf money at a much faster, unsustainable rate. One SCW junior told me that because of her gluten sensitivity, she has already gone through 64% of her money this semester, and doesn’t know how she’ll be able to afford food after she runs out.
The YU Dining Services also claimed they are copying the meal plan systems put in place by two SUNY universities, Albany and Binghamton. These schools also have a membership fee and significant discounts, but their discounts are 18% and 30%, respectively, which are greater than the discounts given in YU. One might imagine this is simply due to the difference between the cost of non-kosher food and kosher food, but these discounts apply to both kosher and non-kosher foods. Another difference between these schools and YU is that both SUNY schools offer more meal plans: SUNY Albany offers 10 different plans and SUNY Binghamton offers six different plans. Because of these vast differences, it is unfair for YU to input an inefficient system, especially without notifying students in advance of the new changes.
After sending a petition out to my fellow students (link to the petition can be found here), I received approximately 250 signatures opposing the new meal plan. Over 70 people also relayed their feelings in the comments. One sophomore wrote, “do they think that they’re giving us such a bad education that we can’t figure out that they’re ripping us off?” Another out-of-town student wrote, “the school is straight-up stealing money from us that we paid for food!” An in-town junior wrote that “specifically because YU is a Jewish institution, it should uphold the morals, values, and Halacha that it inculcates in its students. Stealing and trickery are in direct conflict with said morals, values and Halacha. It would be one thing if YU was upfront about its ridiculous prices and policy, but it is downright insulting to mask the appropriative policy as beneficial to the student body.”
Two of the most concerning comments were from an out-of-town freshman and junior. The former said, “please let me eat normally again,” and the latter wrote, “I'm scared that I will have to start skipping meals because I already feel like I am out of money!” Why should students have to worry about whether they’ll be able to afford lunch or dinner, let alone lunch and dinner? The fact that students will start skipping meals to reduce their expenditures in the cafeterias is outrageous. Especially for those students currently dealing with or recovering from eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder, this dining plan may put them at risk of developing or furthering their unhealthy eating habits.
The Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuvah 2:9 that sins between man and God, such as eating forbidden food, can be atoned for on Yom Kippur. However, sins between man and his fellow, such as stealing, cannot be forgiven until the injured party is appeased and given what he is owed. In Hilchot Genevah 1:2, Rambam writes that stealing even the smallest of amounts is prohibited by the Torah. It has been almost three weeks since Yom Kippur and students are still waiting for what we are owed by the school.
Photo Caption: Furman Dining Hall
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University