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A Panda in a desert of bureaucracy

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time on the mobile ordering app and Net Nutrition app. I scroll through different food options, trying to decipher what meal gives me the most amount of protein and calories. Ironically, it always ends up with Panda Express. Nevertheless, I usually continue my search for something at least somewhat healthy. Through my continued search, I usually despair, for every meal now is lavishly priced. Eventually, I just give up and choose something, food points chart be damned. When prices of essential goods rise, the middle class and lower class tend to suffer, and this case is no different. 

Upperclass meal plans saw an increase by 4.3% but some on campus eateries saw an increase of more than 20%. This difference between available food points and prices will hit low income students and other students on financial aid the hardest. Financial aid covers up to Plan C for most students. While this was swell last year, prices have dramatically changed rendering the description of Plan C outdated and misinformative. Plan C offers students about 32.8 food points a day. This number might have been enough in the past to take care of the average student’s dietary needs; yet for our inflatary times, it is simply inadequate.

Take for example, the chicken pesto crepe from Café, which offers about 74 calories per dollar. If we were to spend all our 32.8 food points on the chicken pesto crepe, this would provide us with 2427.2 calories. Enough to meet the calorie intake for most females while not enough for most males. This hypothetical doesn’t take into account the fact chicken pesto crepe is incredibly unhealthy and that the chicken pesto crepe is actually one of the higher calories per dollar items on campus. Thus, if you want to actually eat healthy, you will have to spend much more than the allocated 32.8 food points since most salads and healthy foods offer less calories while being more expensive, thus, forcing most Duke LIFE students to either eat unhealthy or try to muster whatever savings they have to get a healthy diet. Moreover, this example doesn’t even take into account that many Duke LIFE students opted for smaller plans to cover other costs like textbooks and transportation, which financial aid doesn’t cover. Those students are going to be under even more financial and nutritional stress, which they might not be equipped to handle.In essence, Duke has created an artificial food desert for low income students, with the financial stress being the cherry on top. 

While this increase in prices might hit low income students the hardest, middle class students are not spared. For middle class students, this unwarned change in prices is a disruption of their financial plans. A disruption that might mean taking more loans later in the semester to accommodate their eating habits or dipping into next year’s college savings. Thus, leaving many middle class students between a hard place and a rock. 

One might suggest for students to seek refuge in the kitchen. However, for students who like cooking, the Duke campus store provides the same dilemma with overpriced goods and not enough goods to make it worth a trip. This, coupled with the rising value of cooked food, leaves food points worth much less than their official value of a dollar. 

Another common suggestion that I hear is that students should get food from outside vendors like the ones on 9th Street. This suggestion does have its merit, since 9th Street restaurants tend to have more variety, provide better quality food and in some cases, are cheaper. However, this suggestion requires students to go out of their way to go on 9th Street, which takes valuable time that a lot of students simply do not have. In addition, Duke forces students to get an on-campus dining plan, meaning that financially it is nonsensical to buy from outside vendors. Thus, from a financial and time management point of view, this suggestion is clearly unfeasible.

The Duke administration has successfully again passed their responsibilities to Duke students. Now, instead of the administration creating a realistic food budget for students, students have to do that themselves. A situation, which could have seriously been avoided through some foresight and planning, something that Duke admin preaches but doesn’t practice. A more logical but sinister reason behind the unwarned increase in prices is profits. While Duke dining claims that Duke vendors are competing against 30+ on campus locations, the reality of the situation is that a lot of Duke vendors have shared owners. For example, pitchforks provisions owns The Skillet, The commons, Pitchfork, LB Roasts and Chops, and the Chef’s Kitchen. So in reality, those 30+ vendors are probably owned by 5-10 companies, giving them an oligopoly in a market where outsiders are rarely allowed in (think food trucks and merchants on points). Thus, giving those companies negotiating power, when it comes to pricing and labor costs (hiring outside contractors) allowing them to make profits on the backs of cheap labor and students. 

This unwarned surge in dining prices, coupled with the haphazard implementation of QuadEx and the overhaul of the Thompson Writing Program are reflections of the Duke’s administration current vision for the future. A future, where Duke workers and students are left unheard. For only when the Duke administration accomplishes its goals, does it care to indulge in selective hearing of student voices.

So what’s next? Well I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, it is easy to counteract the increase in dining prices through an increase in dining financial aid, subsidizing healthier food options on campus, and expanding the food point system to 9th Street restaurants. However, all those suggestions do is treat a symptom not the disease itself: the bureaucratic and non transparent nature of the Duke administration. A disease that I am ill equipped and incompetent to come up with a treatment for. Hence, I call upon my fellow classmates, University workers, professors and alumni to come with their own vision for Duke’s future. 

Abdel Shehata is a Trinity sophomore. His column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays. 

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