Too much service from Iowa State Dining?

Editorial Board

ISU University Dining Services is one of the major staples of our campus. They’re everywhere, with everything from convenience stores to full-on dining centers. They provide convenient food to everyone on campus — but is it worth it?

As stated on their website, ISU Dining Services is “dedicated to providing a variety of quality and sustainable culinary experiences, which enhance the educational and cultural aspects of Iowa State,” for the approximately 10,000 students who have meal plans.

This is a mission that, beyond a doubt, they have accomplished. On campus, we have available to us three residential dining centers, no less than eight cafes, three restaurants — this is the category that the Memorial Union food court and Hawthorn fall into — and five convenience stores; not to mention countless vending machines across campus. They provide food and drink conveniently to anyone craving pretty much anything.

These services are available to students solidly from 6:45 a.m. to midnight, and the dining centers provide everything from full espresso bars to panini delis.

Nancy Levandowski, ISU Dining Services director, said there’s more to come. She plans to establish a real sit-down restaurant somewhere on campus, adding a more upscale feel for students who want it.

This is just one of a slew of examples of ISU dining listening to student input and making changes based on what they hear the students asking for, as well as employing countless students who would otherwise have very little income to help with their college expenses.

But this makes dining expensive.

All students living in residence halls are required to have a meal plan. The most common of these is the Cyclone 17 plan, offering 17 meals per week plus $350 in Dining Dollar$, which can be used at the on-campus restaurants or convenience stores.

If the numbers are crunched on this, a student using all of these meals every week pays about $6.20 per meal — much less than someone paying with cash, at a cost of $9.50 for lunch or dinner.

That’s a lot of meals, though, and it might be more food than a student really needs to buy. A student being more frugal might choose the Cyclone 7 plan — seven meals per week, plus $750 Dining Dollar$. This student, eating at a dining center once per day, ends up paying an average of $10 per meal — more than if they had simply paid their way with cash.

For students who have moved out of residence halls and are relying only on Dining Dollar$ to fund their on-campus eating, a few bucks can be saved by buying in bulk.

Say you go to a C-Store and buy a sandwich. That alone can be $5 or more. Now contrast that to a homemade sandwich, with ingredients from Hy-Vee. About 10 sandwiches worth of ingredients — bread, mayo, lettuce, meat, etc. — might cost around $10 if you shop carefully.

That’s $1 per sandwich.

OK, so dining services is expensive — but we’re paying for convenience and options, right?

Yes, but we’re paying for it through the nose. Not only this, but we’re doing it during a recession, when ISU alums are hard-pressed to find jobs upon graduating, and are graduating with about $30,000 of debt on average. The prices we’re paying for dining services are contributing to this.

So ISU Dining accomplishes their mission, but their mission might be a bit misguided. Many students seem to think sacrificing the “free” espresso bar at Conversations would be worth it if it means less debt.

Granted, ISU Dining is comparably priced to large, national dining corporations such as Sodhexo, and offers comparable, if not better, services, but for a corporation that caters specifically to Iowa State, perhaps they should prioritize a bit differently.

Bottom line: ISU Dining provides great food, but with it, an unreasonable lifestyle for college students hard-up for cash. Sure, it’s nice to have a hot panini any time we want, but maybe we’d be better suited foregoing it in favor of more economical options.

You can be sure this isn’t the last you’ll hear from us about dining options both on and off campus; and we urge you to start thinking more critically about the food you eat, and the prices you pay.