Matthew Yan is a senior multidisciplinary major concentrating in journalism.
Although I’ve regularly seen entire plates full of food get dumped in the trash here at Stony Brook, the meal plans are honestly a good value for the cost.
Mathematically speaking, breakfast, lunch and dinner at East Side Dining or West Side Dining costs $29.10 a deal for an all-you-care-to-eat meal.
Given that there are 107 days of school between the start and the end of each semester, that means the Wolfie Standard Plan, which is mandatory for all incoming freshman living on campus, offers $3,163.70 (with the 50 dining dollars factored in) of value for the $2,598 you spend on unlimited meal swipes per semester.
I’ve stuck with this meal plan throughout all four years at Stony Brook because of the convenience it provides. Since I live at Tabler Quad, I’m able to pick up a meal at three locations on campus without spending an extra dollar.
I never have to worry about leaving hungry since I can take as much as I want, and having one takeout meal a day lets me nab some food between classes without the risk of running late. As someone who permanently scarred his finger while trying to fry an egg for the first time as a 20-year-old, it suits me.
The new meal plans for commuters also worked for some students like Michael Soleau, a sophomore political science major. He currently has the $600 meal plan designed for commuters who are only on campus three days a week, matching his class schedule.
The plan comes with 60 bonus dining dollars as well as five free meal swipes per semester. “I think [the food is] pretty good,” Soleau said. “It came out of my tuition, which I get charged for, so it’s not like money out of pocket.” He says he’s satisfied with the variety of food he gets from East Side Dining — the dine-in hall he frequents the most — but he admits it might get boring if he had to eat it every day.
But this doesn’t mean the system is perfect. Since the unlimited meal swipe plans have you pay a set value upfront, the overall value of the meal plan goes down with every meal you miss.
For instance, if you had a change in your class schedule and started missing lunch every day, that’s $10.50 less of that meal plan you’re using five days a week. By the end of the semester, you’d have wasted 16 weeks or roughly $840 worth of lunches.
There’s also the fact that so many people throw their meals in the trash for one reason or another, though I don’t always blame them for it.
Many times I’ve had the displeasure of biting into chicken drier than mummy wrapping; dried-out rice hard enough to make me worry about chipping my teeth; and floppy pizza with a disturbing lack of tomato sauce.
But there are also times where I’ll rave about how good the soy-glazed shiitake mushrooms or the creamy mushroom risotto are. Eating at dine-in halls can sometimes feel like swiping into a grab bag packed with a mix of bad, mediocre and good food.
Some of the features used to entice people onto the meal plan, like the guest swipes or the ability to add meal exchanges to use at retail locations, aren’t especially useful to me either. My tendency to eat alone before rushing off to class means my guest swipes almost never get used.
Fifty dining dollars sounds like a lot, but they’re only good for four to five lunches or dinners at best given that a sushi roll can cost anywhere between $6 and $11 when I could get some of the same rolls for less than $5 at my local sushi joint in Great Neck, Queens.
It’s common knowledge on campus that the retail prices are incredibly high for what we get. For instance, a bottle of Ito En green tea at Jasmine costs $3.69 compared to its unit price of about $1.21 at Walmart, making it more than three times the market price.
The reason for this setup is obvious: the university and its contractor, CulinArt, want to make money. It’s the reason why all freshmen living on campus are required to have the Wolfie Standard Plan.
The new meal exchange and bonus dining dollar add-ons — a limited time offer to get an additional 10 bonus dining dollars per $100 you spend — started last semester in hopes of getting students to spend even more money for the freedom of choice. This, coupled with the rising cost of tuition, is why cooking buildings are so in-demand since they allow students to save money by cooking their own meals.
When asked if having the Wolfie Standard Plan was worth it, senior health science major, Kobe Familara, responded with a flat no. “I don’t think it’s worth the money,” he said. “I’d recommend that any student go to a cooking building.”
Despite these flaws, I’ve overall been satisfied by my dine-in experience at Stony Brook. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have room to improve, primarily in terms of the consistency in food quality and the blatantly overcharged retail pricing. For that to happen, Seawolves must make their opinions heard loudly and clearly on social media, to CulinArt and to the FSA.