It’s no secret that Penn students are unhappy with their dining experience. Before second-year students were forced to participate in the Second Year dining plan, many students did not enroll in a dining plan after their first year, citing limited dietary options and operating hours.
What I find particularly interesting about Penn’s dining plans is that the price that students pay for a swipe varies based on the plan that they choose. The First-Year 187 costs $14.26 per swipe, while the First-year 296 costs $9.94 per swipe, though both plans overall cost $6,134 per semester. The Second-Year 156 costs $11.29 per swipe and overall costs $4,124 per semester, while the Second-Year 296 costs $9.94 per swipe and $6,134 overall per semester. These inconsistencies make no sense, because at the end of the day all swipes give students the same access to the same foods.
Furthermore, the quality of dining is something that many Penn students have taken note of. In a class of 2025 GroupMe poll of 82 students, only 4.9% of students respondents said that they were satisfied with the quality of Penn’s dining. 65.9% of students respondents said they were not satisfied with Penn Dining, and another 29.3% said they were sometimes satisfied with Penn’s dining halls. Though these results are somewhat informal, they nonetheless illustrate a widespread dissatisfaction with dining. In my personal experience, I’ve swiped into a dining hall and left because I felt that the food was inedible. Other times, I’ve tried to significantly rush my eating process because of odd hours, especially on weekends.
In an interview, Sophia Paris, a transfer student from Colgate University, said that she was “initially surprised by Penn’s dining halls. Considering that Penn’s student body is much bigger than Colgate’s, I would have assumed that Penn’s dining halls would be similarly accessible and would provide a variety of options to students. Although Colgate only had one dining hall, it was consistently open from 7:30 AM to 12AM – food was available to students whenever they wanted during those respective hours.”
She added that “having dining halls that operate with different hours and inconsistent food options, in my opinion, makes Penn’s dining much more confusing and complicated than it needs to be.” In regards to sustainability, she said that she has “noticed that there’s a lot of food waste on behalf of the students and the dining hall staff, for example. This is all to say, though, that it’s still worthwhile to note that Penn does have immense dining resources in comparison to other institutions, even though there is definitely room for improvement.” Colgate’s Premier dining plan costs $4,164 per semester and is required for first-year and second-year students. It is cheaper than nearly all first-year and second-year options at Penn.
Another comparison can be made with Harvard’s implementation of their dining plan. Although it is more expensive than Penn’s, standing at $7,236 per semester, their plan is one with unlimited access. All undergraduates living on campus must be on the plan.
Although having multiple dining halls across campus is good for accessibility and diversity of options, the varying hours and inconsistent food options leads students to feel overwhelmed and disillusioned with the entire Penn dining experience. In addition, the quality of food at Penn is something that students have issues with. I have personally experienced many times where I have swiped into a dining hall and felt unsatisfied with all of the options available, and I know that I am not alone in this sentiment.
Not having quality food ready accessible in hours that are complementary to a college student's schedule is not just an issue of mere convenience. It is widely known that eating healthy is good for physical health, but there are also many positive mental health effects. Eating consistently healthy drastically improves gut health, which in turn helps neurotransmitter production. This is important because the gastrointestinal tract is home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters, chemical substances that constantly carry messages from the gut to the brain. At a school where mental health is a preeminent issue, focusing on the accessibility, healthiness, and quality of food should be at the forefront of the University’s operations.
ALLISON SANTA-CRUZ is a College sophomore studying communications from Jackson, Miss. Her email address is email@example.com.