By Gregory Lee, Contributor
Whether it be from the crowded lines at the MUSC Tim Hortons or to the pasta place inside Centro, hungry students are everywhere, looking for ways to satisfy their hunger on campus.
McMaster Hospitality Services, which operates most eateries on campus, state that they aim to provide high quality food service, variety and value. Eating on campus a few times will show that in reality, these expectations are not always met.
Food at universities is notorious for being unhealthy. It is usually stereotyped as deep fried, greasy, frozen and/or unhealthy, which are all true statements. A quick look at the menu at many of the campus eateries shows that they’re mainly burgers, wraps and fries that are almost always frozen and low-quality in terms of taste — mediocre at best.
Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with frozen deep-fried food but the fact that campus food is also notoriously expensive as well doesn’t help. For example, a slice of pepperoni pizza at the MUSC Pizza Pizza costs significantly more than a slice at any other Pizza Pizza location. A Mac Burger at Centro costs around $8.95 for the burger itself, plus an extra $2.99 for a combo, which includes a drink and fries. An order of onion rings which normally contains 5-7 rings will set you back around $4.
What really puts the prices of on-campus food into perspective is when it's compared to other locations off campus which offer better value for your money compared to the on-campus eateries. It’s worse for people who live on residence as the meal plans offered by Mac Hospitality are mandatory if you want to live on residence with few exceptions.
Although the meals plans allow students to save tax when buying food on campus, they still cost students at least $3000 upfront for even the lighter meal plans.
It gets worse when Mac Hospitality takes away exactly half of the non-refundable portion of your meal plan in the beginning of the year for overhead costs, giving you a 50 per cent discount on all food. This discount is only for first year and disappears after the school year ends. The truth is, many students will not finish the non-refundable portion of their meal plan before first year ends. They will either have to go on spending sprees to finish their plans or cut their losses and use the money next school year, even if it technically means losing half of your money.
Health wise, the food on campus doesn’t fare well either. University eating is characterized by fears over the “freshman 15” and uncontrollable weight gain. While the freshman 15 is little more than just a myth, the health concerns of campus food are not.
A quick look at the nutrition facts of campus food will be enough to give any health-conscious individual a heart attack. Calories, unhealthy fats, sodium, carbohydrates and bad cholesterol are high for most, if not all dishes. In addition, the foods on campus are often low in key nutrients such as fibre, protein and vitamins. The campus eateries do have their healthier options such as salad bars or select food from Bridges, but healthy options are almost always lacking on the menus around campus.
Let’s not forget the fact that food options for vegetarians and vegans are limited on campus. While we do have Bridges serving vegetarian and vegan options, other eateries on campus are often lacking in vegetarian and vegan options. Halal and kosher options are also limited and just recently, McMaster Hospitality stopped offering halal beef burgers at their eateries.
The food at Mac is definitely not the worst, but it can be greatly improved upon both health-wise and cost-wise. The introduction of the new $5-dollar daily meals is a step in the right direction for food accessibility at Mac and the menu at the campus eateries is always changing. Hopefully, Mac continues to make improvements to the food on campus so that one day, it can be accessible for all.