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Bon Appetit is good for students | Wikimedia
Bon Appetit is good for stu­dents | Wiki­media

Two years ago, Matt O’Sullivan ’15 raved about the change from Saga to Bon Appetit.

“It’s like the food gods have come to earth and are now incarnate in the kitchen,” O’Sullivan told The Col­legian.

Two years later, however, meal plan com­plaints have returned. From crit­i­cisms about the price of each meal (between $12 and $18 per meal for stu­dents on block plans) to the requirement to be on the meal plan, stu­dents grumble inces­santly about the meal plan.

In the food service survey offered to stu­dents in spring 2016, 45 percent of the 650 responding stu­dents said they were dis­sat­isfied or very dis­sat­isfied with the meal plan options, 38 percent of stu­dents claimed they skip meals because they are tired of the food, and 57 percent of stu­dents rated their overall sat­is­faction as average, below average, or poor.

Clearly, stu­dents aren’t happy. But it’s time to stop the com­plaining.

Not only is the meal plan requirement nec­essary from a financial stand­point, it also is an integral part of the campus culture and enables the school to hire a well-regarded catering company.  

Finan­cially, the money fits into the overall budget of the school. If stu­dents were not required to be on the meal plan, then they would be required to pay that money in another form, such as through fees or tuition.

“If I don’t spend X in my budget, it goes to Pat Flannery and Pat dis­tributes that; he’s got to meet his expense budget. We’re very careful about our oper­a­tions at the college,” Péwé said.

The school works hard to replace the absence of federal money while keeping costs down, but there is still a budget to be met.

“The revenue we make off the meal plan helps keep the Grewcock Student Center fee lower because some of that revenue is used for main­te­nance and equipment we may need to pur­chase,” Vice Pres­ident for Finance Patrick Flannery said.

But the meal plan is not simply a way to make ends meet finan­cially, but a means of con­tinuing the Hillsdale culture that draws so many stu­dents to Hillsdale to begin with.

“A meal is more than just getting proper nutrients for your body,” Senior Greg Rybka said. “It’s growing in a rela­tionship with someone. There’s a certain level of intimacy there.”

Upwards of a dozen stu­dents will crowd around the same round table, des­per­ately trying to find a place to put their plate down and to cut their food without bumping their neighbor. It’s an integral part of the campus culture.

“We want people to sit down after class and talk.” Péwé said. “We do want the upper­classmen to sit with the freshman and sopho­mores.”

Catholic Car­dinal and The­ologian John Henry Newman even went so far as to say that an edu­cation without com­munity is even worse than an edu­cation without teachers.

“When a mul­titude of young men – keen, open-hearted, sym­pa­thetic, and observant, as young men are – come together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn from one another, even if there be no one to teach them; the con­ver­sation of all is a series of lec­tures to each, and they gain for them­selves new ideas and views, fresh matter of thought, and dis­tinct prin­ciples for judging and acting, day by day,” Newman said in “The Idea of a Uni­versity.”

In order to create this con­ver­sation, Péwé believed it was nec­essary to have good food. In 2014, after careful con­sid­er­ation, the school switched food service providers to ensure stu­dents received ample healthy and aller­genic options and extended meal times from a well-regarded company.

Prior to Bon Appetit, stu­dents with allergies required special per­mission from the deans to receive aller­genic food. Now, that food is available to everybody. Without requiring stu­dents to be on a meal plan, however, this option might not be pos­sible.

“The general rule is the more people par­tic­i­pating in the meal plan, the better the overall product,” Dean of Men Aaron Petersen said.

And despite fre­quently being under­staffed, Bon Appetit attempts to form rela­tion­ships with stu­dents.

“Hos­pi­tality is some­thing we preach, and we under­stand our rela­tionship with the student goes beyond feeding them,” Bon Appetit General Manager at Hillsdale College Dave Apthorpe said.

Bon Appetit’s pop­u­larity in the Hillsdale com­munity has proven so popular that Bon Appetit did not even need to advertise for cash sales, according to Flannery.

Even so, Bon Appetit con­tinues to strive toward improvement. The recent Caesar salad bar and the panini grill were just some of the changes they’ve made.

“We’re always trying to improve, and we value student feedback,” Apthorpe said. “The chal­lenge is knowing that you’re not going to be able to please everyone all the time, being able to accept that, and trying to max­imize where you can.”

The school created the 10 per week and 100 block plans in order to appease stu­dents, and the admin­is­tration con­tinues to con­sider alter­native plans. Con­trary to common per­ception, not all stu­dents are even required to be on a meal plan; 10 percent of full-time stu­dents are not on meal plans. Exemp­tions include fifth year seniors, married stu­dents, com­muting stu­dents, stu­dents 24 years or older, stu­dents with two years of active mil­itary duty who received hon­orable dis­charge, and more.

Stu­dents will always com­plain, and stu­dents at Hillsdale will always appeal to the free market and rising to self-gov­ernment. But Petersen knows how the free market really works.

“We actually are prac­ticing what we preach. We’re a private insti­tution and we’re doing what we think is best,” Petersen said.

Chavey is a senior studying music and jour­nalism.

  • Camus53

    “When a mul­titude of young men – keen,
    open-hearted, sym­pa­thetic, and observant, as young men are – come
    together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn from one
    another, even if there be no one to teach them; the con­ver­sation of all
    is a series of lec­tures to each, and they gain for them­selves new ideas
    and views, fresh matter of thought, and dis­tinct prin­ciples for judging
    and acting, day by day,” Newman said in “The Idea of a Uni­versity.”

    Which is why I always thought the campus needs a good pub with craft brews and food for the belly and the heart. Oh wait…that’s what the frat houses used to be about. Yes indeed there used to be true free thought, rabid debate and such at hillsdale. To think there were actually keg parties held inside the student center! What a won­derful free flow of ideas and infor­mation took place at such events. And to think it’s all gone now…replaced by a vapid point of view that Saga food pro­motes the sharing of ideas and conversation…perhaps in the restrooms after eating the meals.

    And if…if in any tiny sense of the word “freedom” of thoughts and actions were at the heart of learning at Hillsdale…tools like Petersen would not say :
    “We actually are prac­ticing what we preach. We’re a private insti­tution and we’re doing what we think is best,” Petersen said. A slap in the face of all who do love freedom and who ued to call Hillsdale an insti­tution of free thought, ideals and action!