Let students take food out of dining halls

UMass Dining shouldn’t stop students from taking food


(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Annabelle Tocco, Collegian columnist

In a rush, feeling anxious or simply wanting to eat in their room, most students have attempted to take food out of the dining halls, and have been lectured by dining hall workers that they were not allowed to do so. Why?

I recall a particular incident where I wanted to eat a bagel to go. Grab n’ Go was closed, and I had been in my room doing homework when I realized I had a meeting in 15 minutes. That was not nearly enough time to walk all the way to somewhere that accepts Dining Dollars or enough time to sit and eat a full meal in Franklin Dining Commons.

I grabbed a paper bag from my room and decided I’d make a bagel and eat it once I got to the meeting. I toasted my bagel and slathered it with cream cheese, but just as I was putting it in the bag to avoid getting it dirty, I was pulled aside by a Franklin staff member who called me out because I “really can’t be taking food out of the dining halls.” She spoke to me sternly for about five minutes, which then caused me to be late to my meeting.

This interaction led me to question many aspects of UMass Dining. If I’m paying roughly $3,000 a semesterto dine with an unlimited plan, why am I being reprimanded for simply wanting to eat my bagel outside of the dining hall? I paid for it, so what does it matter if I eat it sitting at a table or on my way to class?

The immediate answer to this is that all the dining halls have Grab n’ Go exactly for that –  because the University understands that students have very busy schedules and sometimes can’t afford the time to sit and eat. The Grab n’ Go swipes are incorporated into the meal plan at no extra cost, so why would you ever need to take food out of the dining halls? If Grab n’ Go is busy or closed, there are marketplaces in many of the dining halls where you can buy a small snack or meal, as well as many other places on campus by using UMass Debit or Dining Dollars.

These are all valid options, assuming that the student in question does not have a particularly busy schedule, has both Dining Dollars and UMass Debit to spend, as well as either cash or credit to spend at places like Hampden and Franklin Market. While it is true that there are many students on campus that fall into this category, there are also many students who have a limited dining plan, and may not have access to Dining Dollars, YCMPs or other University-sponsored payment methods for food on campus.

That being said, all the dining halls operate in an all-you-can-eat buffet-style dining. One swipe in and there’s no limit to how long you stay during hours of operation, or how much food you eat. So why can’t students take some of that food with them? What is the difference between drinking six glasses of almond milk in one visit to Berkshire Dining Commons and taking a carton to help sustain you through the week? By not allowing students to take food out of the dining halls, the University is hurting rather than helping students who may be food insecure, who don’t have time to eat a full meal and who don’t have money to pay at places that use Dining Dollars.

Additionally, not allowing students to take food out of the dining halls harbors both food waste and unhealthy eating habits. Although dining halls such as Berkshire and Worcester donate a lot of food to local shelters through the Food Recovery Network (FRN), there is still a tremendous amount of food being wasted. Dining halls won’t supply the FRN with half-full trays of food or food that was on someone’s plate. If students could take what they didn’t finish to eat for later, or could take a meal to go, it would reduce overall food waste as well as save students money.

But since this is not the policy, students who do not have meal plans and are fortunate enough to be swiped into the dining halls by others often feel the need to take full advantage of the swipe and eat until they burst – a habit which encourages binge eating. The students will gorge themselves and then either eat more later or not eat at all, an extremely unhealthy habit. If the students could take food to go, they would be encouraged to consume food responsibly while still taking full advantage of the swipe they were given.

One potential concern for the University is that if students were to take food to go from the dining hall in Tupperware containers, they would have no way of knowing when that food would expire. Grab n’ Go meals are clearly labeled with expiration dates and the time they were put out to precisely avoid students getting sick, which is an added risk when students take food out of the dining halls.

But what is the difference between getting something to go from the dining halls and getting something to go from Blue Wall? Blue Wall doesn’t mark its containers with expiration dates, yet students are responsible enough to know when that food might go bad. If the administration is really concerned either about the legal consequences or about the student’s wellbeing, it would not be that difficult to add a recommended consumption date to the placards already in place containing ingredients and health facts for dining hall food.

UMass’s so-called No. 1 Dining is inherently slanted towards students who can afford unlimited meal plans. But the rule against taking food to go affects them, too. Rather than adding pointless dining events such as “Lentil Week,” the University should focus on reducing food waste, and consider making food more readily accessible to all students, because, clearly, No. 1 Dining isn’t No. 1 for everyone.

Annabelle Tocco is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]