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Too little, too late

Last week, Duke Dining Services announced a new program that allows freshmen to use unused breakfast credits to purchase lunch at the Marketplace. I was thrilled, as most other freshmen were, to learn that my unused breakfasts wouldn’t continue to go entirely to waste. It alleviates some small portion of the enmity that I have felt towards the Marketplace and Duke Dining after being so completely ripped off over the course of this year.

That enmity, however, is still largely intact. Despite the fact that this is an important step in improving the freshman meal plan, it is simply too little and too late. The Marketplace itself is fundamentally flawed, and anything short of making eating there completely voluntary is an admission that it is not representative of the will of students. Duke Dining, Duke Student Government and others involved in this issue are simply trying to provide quick fixes to a system that people have complained about for years and that needs to be completely restructured.

As the latest attempt to improve the Marketplace, the “equivalency” program allows students who miss a breakfast that costs $6.70 when charged to food points to get $4.85 worth of food during lunch at the Marketplace. When asked why this $4.85 couldn’t be applied to other vendors, Director of Dining Services Jim Wulforst replied, “I don’t want to lay off employees because we have to shift schedules.” He is either very uncreative in his excuses or needs a quick refresher in basic economics.

With respect to the Marketplace employees, we are not at all obliged to support them at our own expense. If any on-campus vendor stopped serving palatable food, no one would fault students for refusing to eat there and making the vendor insolvent. The Marketplace is different because we simply can’t express our displeasure by refusing to patronize it.

But even if we did have an obligation to the employees, we are still eating and will still need people to prepare food, regardless of whether we eat at the Marketplace or not. Forcing students to eat there has nothing to do with protecting the jobs of the employees, but everything to do with supporting ARAMARK Corp. and upholding a system that can only be described as fubar.

The Marketplace itself is unique—every other vendor on campus makes money by attracting students to eat there (presumably by providing food options that students want). The Marketplace, however, already has our money and therefore has no real interest in wooing us to eat there. Under the current system, the only way for it to increase its bottom line is to reduce its operating costs (anyone wondering where the Lucky Charms have been lately?).

Duke Dining has completely ignored the simple but powerful notion of competition—something whose absence from the first-year meal plan is being sorely felt by droves of unsatisfied freshmen. Without a profit motive that is based on providing for what students want, any system is destined to fail.

Add to that other problems with the Marketplace. A greasy, all-you-can-eat buffet with few healthy options is not exactly the best way to prevent students from gaining the freshman 15. In addition to this, students also often waste food because much of it is unpalatable and because we have no reason not to—further increasing the price ARAMARK has to charge Duke to even cover its own costs.

So why would Duke continue with this system? It could have something to do with the fact that Duke does make money through the ARAMARK contract, or that the current CFO and Executive VP of ARAMARK sits on the Trinity Board of Visitors (which influences first-year dining), or it could be that some of our administrators need to actually think this situation through. But ultimately, your guess is as good as mine.

For me, however, the situation is clear. I would much rather take my business to a small, individually owned vendor, instead of giving more money to ARAMARK and Duke. Having already spent almost $3,000 at the Marketplace, however, I can’t afford to eat anywhere else. I would personally love to go to Cosmic every day, but they don’t take food points because of the 18 percent charge imposed by Duke on all points purchases.

Thank you, Duke Dining. Wake up, DUSDAC and DSG.

Elliott Wolf is a Pratt freshman. His column appears every other Tuesday.



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