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The work/drive balance: A look into the commuter food experience at UMass Lowell

(Photo courtesy of: Jake Hogan) “Lentil soup: Lentil soup prepared by Grace Foley.

Jake Hogan
Connector Staff

Strolling through the Fox or South Campus dining halls after a long day of class is the norm for many UMass Lowell students. But not for many commuters, who say they think meal plans are too expensive for what they deliver.

UMass Lowell housing guidelines require every student who lives in on-campus housing to participate in a meal plan. Most students in traditional dorms sign up for an unlimited meal swipe plan, with a varying amount of River Hawk dollars, which can be used at locations such as Starbucks, Subway or the Merrimack Market. Students living in apartment-style housing participate in a smaller meal plan, consisting of seven meal swipes per week and one thousand River Hawk dollars.

For commuter students who wish to purchase an individual meal at the dining hall, they see differences in pricing across meal times. Baz Warren, a junior English major has found this to be an issue. “I’ve been charged as low as $10.50. But I’ve also been charged as high as, like, $13,” Warren said.

Breakfast carries a rate of $10.50, lunch has a rate of $12.50 and dinner goes for $13.50, according to an email statement from Aramark representative Tabatha Garnett. Commuters who wish to stay away from paying for individual meals at the dining halls can opt for a commuter meal plan.

“Commuter students also have the option to take advantage of one of the commuter meal plans or purchase a residential meal plan instead of paying at the door. If someone is using River Hawk Dollars as payment, they receive $1 off these prices,” Garnett said.

Additionally, ommuter students say the food is not high enough in quality for what pay for, an opinion they echoed from fellow students.

“I have heard stuff about the dining hall. It’s mediocre at best. It gets a lot worse at times and I see those posters around campus talking about UML going off of canned meat and whatnot. It sounds questionable from a distance which is why I kept away from it,” said Daranee Khoeun, a sophomore history major. “I know I can just go in there and buy food, but it just doesn’t sound that great.”

When Grace Foley, a senior biology major lived on campus, having only started commuting this school year, she did not think the food was very good.

“I was forced to [go to the dining hall] for a nutrition class I took for school. We were required to track calories for the week. And I was like, ‘oh my god, like the food of Fox it is almost impossible to eat a normal amount of calories and get what you need.’ And that’s not something I would typically do,” said Foley. “But also trying to get in all those nutritional things that you need, it was nearly impossible.”

But where do commuters eat if not the dining hall? For Adhiti Ambati, a junior criminal justice major, this has been a struggle. “It’s literally whatever scraps I have; I am not kidding,” Ambati said.

Because they do not always have time to prepare a meal every day, students say they sometimes make them days in advance. This is true for those who live so far from campus, such as Foley, who values getting in well-balanced nutrition with each meal.

“I meal prep at my house. So every Saturday or Sunday, I’ll make two or three dinner options. And then if I’m going to be on campus late, I’ll pack that with me for the day. And then

if not, I’ll just eat it when I get home. I try to eat healthy, so I eat a lot of salads, soups,” Foley said.

Commuters also say the alternatives to eating in the dining hall are not much better. They are often too expensive for a students’ budget, which encourages them to turn to their own kitchens to satisfy their hungry stomachs.

“The microwave mac and cheese bowls or the ramen, they’ll cost like $7 or $8. And then it’s like all the packaged sandwiches they have are like $9, something like that. And they’ve gone up since last year too. I noticed that. So I oftentimes don’t get that. Just because it is so much money for what I’m buying,” Warren said.

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