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Change for the UBC Mandatory Meal Plan and Dining Halls

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One issue has brought students together as this first year residence experience is soon coming to an end, we have noticed that our meal plans are ending far before our experience. We have come to terms with numerous issues affecting us in our everyday lives as residents:

  • the meal plan 
  • the quality and cost of food
  • and the service and operations of the dining halls

Meal Plan

The meal plan itself has been the subject of student complaint since the beginning of the year and we can attribute the negativity that surrounds our meal plan specifically in threefold: 

  • price
  • transparency 
  • and its mandatory nature

The minimum meal plan according to the UBC website is a total of $4249.86. A large number of students on the minimum meal plan are well aware that it is "for students with smaller appetites who dine on campus occasionally on weekends." Students are not selecting the minimum plan because they have smaller appetites, but instead, because other options are simply unaffordable. 

                       Minimum Plan       Regular Plan        Varsity Plan
Meal Dollars  $2,313.13               $2,619.58               $2,810.26
Flex Dollars   $440.38                  $594.74                  $837.63
CIF*                $350.00                   $350.00                  $350.00
Overhead       $1146.35                 $1146.35                $1146.35
Total               $4249.86                 $4710.67                $5144.24

*Capital improvement fund

The prices of the meal plans make even a basic necessity unaffordable to most students. However, those on the regular and varsity plans are also complaining about running out of their meal dollars prior to the end of the term. Furthermore, considering the "capital improvement fund," and the "overhead" that students pay for with their meal plan, the minimum meal plan (plus flex dollars) actually comes to $2753.51. In comparison to other schools UBC's meal plan is extremely expensive:

  • Simon Fraser University: $2360 
  • The University of Alberta: $3873
  • University of Waterloo: $4400 (50% meal plan)**
  • Vancouver Island University: $5040 (95% meal plan)
  • Mcgill: $5975 (81% meal plan)
  • University of British Columbia: $4249.86 (65% meal plan)

*All meal plans shown are the minimum offered (except VIU)

*These prices include any additional overhead fees etc.

**UofW gives students 50% off of food purchases - which is where their overhead goes.

Out of our $4249.89 meal plan, a total of $1496.35 goes towards "overhead" and "capital improvement." On the UBC website, we are given a brief description about these fees and why we are required to pay for them. However, to the students of UBC it is not clear enough. We, as students who are paying a very large sum of money towards "overhead" and "capital improvement", would like to see more transparency with the spending of our money. We would like to see a receipt like list of every single dollar of these fees that have been spent, and what it was spent on. Students want more control over where our money is going and what is being done with it. We are frustrated that we are being forced to pay such an enormous sum of money, however almost half of it does not go towards ensuring that we can eat three meals a day. UBC states that overhead charge "covers a portion of the costs associated with operating the residence dining rooms. These costs include, but are not limited to, labour, utilities, repairs and cyclical maintenance of equipment and facilities, administrative and management costs." The overhead charges students $1146.35, now let us take a look at the estimated number of students living in first year residence based on the bed numbers provided on the UBC website:

  • Totem Park: 1776*
  • Orchard Commons: 1047*
  • Place Vanier: 1464* 

* Refers to number of beds in each residence, roughly equating to number of students.

If we multiple the total amount of students (4287) by $1146.35 - the total amount paid by first year students on the mandatory meal plan comes to $4,914,402.45. This means that in the past 5 years, overhead alone charged students a collective total of approximately $19,771,098.45. Is this all going towards pay-cheques and improving the facilities etc. for first year residents?

Transparency is also an issue when taking the UBC website into consideration. UBC provides a very vague description of each meal plan:

  • Minimum Plan—for students with smaller appetites who dine on campus occasionally on weekends.
  • Regular Plan—for students with average appetites who dine on campus about every other weekend.
  • Varsity Plan—for students with hearty appetites who dine on campus most weekends.

What if a student has a small appetite, but they dine every weekend? Other universities provide a more specific description to help students have a better understanding of what to expect. Vancouver Island University supplies students with a recommended budget per meal, and shows how many meals a student can have with their meal plan. Although the largest plan at UBC is called the "Varsity" plan, it still is not enough for 3 meals a day, as on the varsity plan a student can spend an approximate $16.07 a day.

Food Price and Quality

Now, the price of our meal plan may not have been as large of a concern as it is, if the food in the dining halls themselves were affordable. Below are a few prices taken from the Orchard Commons dining hall.

  • California roll: $6.53
  • Fries: $3.10
  • Sides: $5.00 (small)
  • Salad: $4.19 (small)
  • Yogurt Parfait: $4.60 (9 oz)
  • Small Cup of Vegetables: $3.39
  • Chicken Stir Fry: $9.19
  • Miso Soup: $3.59

*All in resident prices

If you take our meal plan and flex dollars which are a total of $2753.51 and were to assume that a student was to eat on campus everyday, then they would have a total of approximately $12.13 to spend each day. This is obscene considering that a chicken stir fry is $9.19. The overpriced food served in our dining halls makes it almost impossible to eat a healthy diet that is preached by UBC. Healthy foods are the more expensive option, while unhealthy foods (burgers etc) are the only option that students get past eight o'clock, the salad trays are even removed from the Orchard Commons dining hall. Additionally, there have been numerous complaints about the quality of the food itself, students have drained a cup of oil from their chow mein, berries have been moldy, and the burgers have given plenty stomach aches. Orchard food is by far better in quality than the other dining halls, however, the food is still far too overpriced for the quality we are receiving. The sides bar in Orchard Commons is a great example of this: it is $5.00 for a small bowl of sides, however the rice is so dry and burnt that it is impossible to chew, and the other sides are over cooked and far from appetizing, why is it then so expensive? Some might say that student dining is far cheaper than eating out everyday, but we can debunk this myth for a cold, stale california roll is $6.53 at orchard commons, and a fresh one from a nice Japanese restaurant will almost never cost over $4.00. The yogurt parfait bar is another fantastic example as being a beacon of student complaint, it's $4.19 for a small yogurt parfait. This would be perfectly fine, however, the fruit served in the parfait are all either canned or defrosted, none are fresh. Students also feel that the quantity of food being received is far too little for the price that they're paying. Yet, food quality is something that differs from dining hall to dining hall.

Dining Hall Service and Operations

The dining halls and their operations are a problem all in itself featuring:

  • service
  • and discrepancies between the three first year dining halls

This has sparked student concern. Many students believe that the service in the first year dining halls can be improved through more efficient training. In recent Vancouver Coastal Health inspections the dining halls have faced some dilemmas. From improper sanitation and handling of equipment, to pest control there is room for change to be addressed. Although infractions are common for food establishments, the Mcdonald's on campus has a better track record than our dining halls. 

Additionally, people are consistently being accidentally overcharged, whether it's $6 for a $2 yogurt or $9 for the $2 signature greens. The only reason people became aware of these incorrect charges was because they were either paying by cash or asked for a receipt. A reoccurring problem is that cashiers are not telling students their total, which should be a standard in any facility you purchase things in. This can prevent students from losing meal plan dollars without even knowing it. Food variety and quality is also very different from dining hall to dining hall, and students at Totem are infamous for disliking their dining hall so much that they simply come to Orchard. Furthermore, many students are fond of the far cheaper buffet style dining that many universities such as SFU offer throughout Canada, and along with the buffet dining, SFU states that at its dining hall you can "eat at a REAL student's schedule" because it is open 24 hours. Now, we recognize that those who are employed at the dining halls are hard-working individuals, and many of them are lovely people. We are are by no means saying that the staff are horrible, we are instead suggesting that there is room for improvement (seeing that there were problems with Vancouver Coastal health etc) and if we are going to be charged such a significant amount for overhead, we would like to see some. Another important concern is the discrepancy between the operations of dining halls, why is it that the Orchard Commons dining hall is open far later than that of Totem Park and Place Vanier. On weekends (Friday to Saturday) Vanier closes at 7:30pm. At this time, students could be either returning from class (Friday) or work, and this would then mean that students will not be able to eat a meal in the facility that they have poured thousands of dollars into. There are after hour facilities available, however, they typically sell snack foods and one can not attain a healthy diet from chip consumption. 

We have several suggestions to further address this extremely important topic. We as students would firstly like to have immediate transparency about where the remaining 35% of our meal plan is going. Secondly, we would like to have a platform to better project our voices and concerns, which we would like to take in the form of a panel of representatives from UBC food services who can answer all of our questions.

We sincerely thank you for taking your time to read through the concerns of first year students who are living in residence. We hope that we can all work together to resolve these concerns and make a change in the future.

Warm regards,
The first year resident students of UBC


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