Eating your money: Squandering food on campus

Andy Frakes

The cost of attending NMU has increased significantly in the past several years, from $17,434 in the 2008-09 academic year to $20,274 currently. This information is according to the estimates on NMU’s own website (including room and board, tuition and associated expenses).

Andy Frakes
Andy Frakes

Economic inflation is partly to blame for the jump, as many resources that are needed to keep the university operating simply cost more from year to year. What one has to consider, though, is the tendency of students to misuse these resources, and how that presents a problem to the school when NMU tries to keep costs level.

In surviving away from home, keeping dollars in your own pocket is important, and why would anyone spend more than they need on food? While the Marketplace (MP) and Wildcat Den are the go-to choices for student meals, when the numbers are examined the MP and Den really aren’t such cheap options.

The unlimited meal plan is $2,161 per semester. This includes the paltry $153 in Dining Dollars and eight guest passes. To put that in perspective, eating at the MP three times every single day for a whole semester means that you would eat 273 meals at $7.92 apiece.

That seems like a palatable price, but let’s say you spend the allotted $153 on snacks to keep in your room and only make it to the MP for 200 meals before the semester ends—the cost per meal goes up to $10.81, meaning you really don’t save any money over going to Jimmy John’s or Rice Paddy. Dining out is typically viewed as frivolous, something for special occasions, but put in terms of dollar-for-dollar, going to a restaurant for dinner is comparable.

It stands to reason that if a student is required to pay an exorbitant amount for college, they would try to make full use of their dollars. So from this viewpoint we get a sort of self-justified waste; the student is likely to say, “Since I’m paying out the nose for this cafeteria food, I might as well take/eat as much of it as I can.”

The required plan for freshmen means they had best take advantage of their unlimited meals, and there’s nothing wrong with eating as much as they can for the amount they’re spending. But what if they simply wasted less? This would prompt MP staff to dial back purchasing, thereby reducing overhead costs to what is necessary in feeding the student body.

Brian Tarabula, longtime MP employee and former manager, said the amount of food being wasted each day is astounding.

“If anyone could work in the Marketplace dish room for just one day, they’d get an idea of how much food goes to waste,” Tarabula said. He also stated that it’s mostly because the people who eat there don’t bother with appropriate portion sizes, and that responsibility falls both onto the dining employee doling out food and on the student asking for extra helpings.

“There should be a better system in place to limit portion size,” Tarabula said. “But the MP staff and supervisors are really doing their best with the cards being dealt.”

While it should be common sense and common courtesy to not waste food, the buffet-style layout dominating the MP encourages students to take more than they can eat, and they send plenty of it into the dish room to be dumped down a massive garbage disposal. Why worry about wasting something that never seems to run out?

Unreasonable consumption isn’t limited to just the cafeteria, either; it’s carried through to the residence halls. Residents leave their lights and TVs on all the time because, as they have reasoned out, they’re paying for it. This disregard for conservation begins to negate the efforts made in the newly renovated dorms and other facilities to actually save money and reduce overall waste.

As we work toward solving the issue, there’s an opportunity to take out two hefty birds      with one stone; the prices of college attendance could start to stabilize, and, just as importantly, we the students could help our school move closer to achieving goals of environmental sustainability.