Mandatory meal plans for students who live on campus are drawing ire from residents who say the plans are overpriced and inefficient, while the dining hall food is unappealing and at times inedible.

The meal plans, starting at a minimum of $538 per month according to the 2018-2019 fee schedule, must be purchased every semester.  Any meals that go unredeemed at the end of the academic school year are non-refundable. At a minimum, students must purchase a 240-block meal plan, and not only do many students view the plans as wasteful, they say they often find the dining hall conditions unsanitary.

“I am never really satisfied,” 18-year-old criminal justice major Abby Jaime said. “The chicken looks gray [and] the beef looks bloody.”

Jaime said if she could choose to buy her own groceries instead of putting her money into meal plans, she would.

Jeny Patino, executive director of Housing, Dining & Conference Services, said students who live in core campus housing are mostly freshmen and the meal plan requirement is for their own good.

“Freshmen tend to not cook for themselves,” Patino said. “[They] need to have structured access to a good variety of healthy, nutritious foods and meals while they focus on adapting to their new environment and educational goals.”

But, many students expressed a desire to take control of their own eating habits and said they’d rather opt out of the plans.

A common complaint is that even for the minimum 240-block plan, the number of swipes, each of which accounts for one meal, is excessive.

“It’s still more than you need,” Jaime said. “If they had a lesser minimum, the meal plans would be better.”

Swipes that go unused are non-refundable and non-transferable, and while some meal plans allow roll-over from fall to spring, others expire unused swipes after just one semester.

“We piloted a program where students could donate anticipated unused meals to the Basic Needs program,” Patino said. “To date, approximately 1,600 meals have been donated for distribution to students in need.”

But mechanical engineering major Cass Gascon, 18, said she found out not all meal plans have that option.

“I wanted to donate, but only block meal plans have that option,” Gascon said.  Patino said unused funds are absorbed into the dining hall’s budget.

Kiara Rios Johnson is on a block plan and said she donated 50 swipes last semester but is unsure of where those meals went.

Patino said the base price of the meal plan covers all dining expenses and operation of dining facility.

“Our meal plan structure is based on the historical usage of the plans,” she said. But many meals are neither redeemed nor donated.

“Any funds that are not immediately applied to cover the cost of salaries and benefits, operating expenses or scheduled projects go to make the much needed improvements to the facilities and infrastructure,” Patino said.

Two of the first-time freshmen buildings, Mary Park and Towers have access to cooking facilities, but, students say it is unclean and not easily accessible.

Johnson lives in Mary Park and she said the kitchen is technically an option but the conditions are poor.

“I have access to cooking facilities, but it’s one kitchen for six floors of first-year students,” she said. “If I had an easier kitchen to use I would
so opt out of a meal plan.”

“The kitchen is crusty and old,” Jaime said.  “Nobody goes there.”

Aside from bristling at the mandatory cost of the meal plans, Jaime and Gascon also said that oftentimes food in the dining hall is under-
cooked..

“[There are] a lot of cleanliness issues,” Jaime said. “But the most disgusting thing is the dish room. It’s a revolving platter of dishes piled with food.”

Johnson said the food isn’t so bad, but she said she’s still not 100 percent satisfied.  Asked how the residential dining experience could be improved, Gascon said students’ voices should be heard and there should be at least some discussion about what they want to eat and how many swipes should come with a plan.

“One thing I would do is make the meal plan not mandatory if you live on campus,” Johnson said.

According to a March 2019 study by Expatistan.com, a modest grocery bill for a single person in San Francisco adds up to around $250 a month. The lowest monthly cost for a 240-block meal plan will increase next academic year to $554.

Gascon said that as a freshman away from home and on her own for the first time, she feels SF State has left her with very little agency over her eating habits.

“I just wish we had more say,” she said.