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Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

Credit: Ernest Owens

I have an unlimited number of meal swipes. I pay $4,200 each year. And I have fed 3,000 other people since I bought Eat Any Time, the most expensive meal plan, this semester.

Recently, I received an email from Doug Berger, executive director of Business Services at Penn, saying that there would be a stricter enforcement of dining plan policy because of “repeated and growing misuse of the EAT plan by students who are allowing others to use their meals.” Yes, I agree that I might be part of a “small number of students who are clearly abusing their meal plans,” but such an offense reflects an even greater problem. Penn’s current dining meal plans are impersonal, inflexible and lack the qualities that encourage people to go to the dining halls in the first place.

“[The practice] has been going on for many months, and now they choose to put pressure on us to get tough at a time when the students need it most,” said a campus dining hall employee who wished to remain anonymous.

The terms and conditions of dining plan participation limit every student to having only 10 guest swipes. Yet, this restriction was not strictly imposed, and many students — including me — swiped in our friends from fraternities, athletics and many other clubs and organizations to share some of our unlimited meals. As a result, thousands of people ate from our generosity, and now Bon Appétit and Penn Dining have a bone to pick with the Robin Hoods responsible.

“Guest swipes should not be limited to 10 in general, but if used at all, should have different numbers for different plans,” Wharton freshman and Undergraduate Assembly representative Dan Fine, a swimmer, said. “From an athlete and team perspective, this had a great effect on team and group meals that needs to be addressed and taken care of immediately … hopefully by the University Council and upper administration in the near future.”

A representative of the Dining Hall Advisory Board, led by Berger, declined to comment until knowing the entire group’s thoughts on the matter.

It should come as no shock that the quality of food is not the only thing questionable about our dining meal plans. Beyond being fairly expensive, they lack the satisfaction of liberty for the student. Their misconstrued attempts of providing “flexibility” is another way of selling an over-embellished illusion of a deal rather than a coherent, fair bargain.

Occupy Bon Appétit, a protest co-led by College sophomore Paul Terwilliger, is a response to what he calls an “extreme dissatisfaction with the service of Bon Appétit.” Terwilliger, who had the EAT plan, says that stricter enforcement on swipes “separates bonds with his fellow upperclassmen.” No longer able to swipe in a few of his upperclassman friends for dinner, Terwilliger now says Penn Dining plans “make more money off [him] than what he benefits from them.” He said he will not purchase a meal plan again as a result.

Perhaps I, along with many other students, might just drop my meal plan next semester. There is no point in paying thousands of dollars for thousands of meals that will go to waste. Although it is irrational to expect Penn Dining to allow me to feed 10,000 people, it is just as foolish for them to only allow me to feed 10.

Dining halls are more than just locations where individuals feed themselves. They are an escape from a stressful day of academia. They foster a sense of community, which is the only thing that keeps my mind off the mediocre food and more engaged in the discussion that brought me to it.

Perhaps developing a team-based meal plan or a more liberal unlimited plan that has a reasonable cap number for guests could be the solution. Otherwise, Penn Dining will have a little more to worry about than just a few occupying students. Because one thing you don’t come between is college students and their food.

Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago, Ill. His email address is The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.

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