On May 7, 2021, Dean of Students Sheilah Shaw Horton sent a campus-wide email detailing the changes to housing and dining that would “increase our campus accessibility and improve the residential experience for all students in the long term.” In an effort to be “more responsive to students’ needs” after the lessons learned during the pandemic, modifications were to be made in both accessibility and variety of meal options. Students with allergies were especially affected by a lack of substantial nutritious options last, and Dean Horton’s email outlined how the College would be taking measures to improve that for this academic year.
“I definitely felt like it was impossible to have a balanced diet on campus last year with the limited options they provided us,” said Arshia Mehta ’22. “Because of the pandemic there were no ‘make your own’ options, like bread or sandwiches, which made it really difficult if you didn’t want to eat the same thing again and again for every meal.”
New changes include the closure of Pomeroy Dining Hall, with Stone Davis becoming the kosher and vegetarian dining hall on campus, halal meat availability at Bae Pao and the new “meal equivalence” option (grab-and-go meals included in the meal plan) at Collins Cafe and the Leaky Beaker. Dean Horton’s email did not mention the closing of late night meals at Stone Davis and the limited variety of lunch and dinner options at each dining hall, though these have been reported by students.
Many of the students interviewed had positive reviews for the food in Stone Davis. However, closing down Pomeroy has impacted students’ accessibility to those options given Stone Davis’ distance from the Quint, in particular. There is no longer a localized dining hall for the neighborhood, which means most students living in the five residence halls and frequent Lulu for meals, which has resulted in extremely long lines.
“I usually wait 20 minutes on busy days,” says Maddie Schwede ’23, who lives on west side. “But on days when I’m in a rush, I’ll just skip the line and grab pizza or an apple. I’ve definitely gone days when I haven’t been able to eat as much as I wanted to.”
Avni Iyer ’23, who also lives on west side, explained, “I have to eat every couple of hours, so there’s definitely a momentary panic after seeing the long lines at Lulu.”
Students living on the west side said that they wait an average of 20 minutes every day (especially during dinner or lunch rush hour) to get food, and some also mentioned that they sometimes don’t get enough food as they would like.
“If I’m still hungry, I almost never get back in the line for seconds because I’m in too much of a rush, and some days the lines are too much to deal with,” Mehta explained.
While students living on the east side of campus encountered shorter waiting times (15-20 minutes on busy days), they faced a lack of meal options at later times.
“Lulu Late Night doesn’t really feel like an option, especially with the walk back late at night,” Gunjan Singh ’23 said. “That can really be a lot after a long day, especially in the dark. It would be a lot easier if there were more grab-and-go options at Bates Dining Hall since we don’t have late meals.”
With the walk back in the dark (and for most of the coming months, the cold), some students do not feel motivated or safe enough to walk across campus to grab food at night.
“At that point, if I lived on the east side, I’d probably just walk to the ville and get takeout,” Schwede said. “It’s closer, anyway.”
Some students also brought up how the commute schedule to and from MIT prevented students from making it back on time for meals, as dinner and late night operations end relatively early.
“My friends commuting to MIT usually never make it to late night,” Iyer noted. “They usually end up having to buy food.”
Regarding the food itself, though students did say there seems to be a general improvement when it comes to variety, some have complained about food being heavy on carbs and low on protein (except for beef), and with many repetitive vegetable options.
“There’s a lot of squash at Tower,” Schwede commented. “It’s hard because it doesn’t go with everything, and I can’t find vegetables to eat when I don’t feel like eating a salad. The vegetable options are so limited—I would not be happy if I were a vegetarian on campus right now.”
Iyer expressed that she felt the same about food at Lulu.
“I’ve definitely eaten very questionable things for lunch,” she said. “Especially at Lulu, I feel like the only thing they serve is potatoes. I just wish there were more vegetarian options besides tofu. It’s really hard to have a balanced diet.”
Students interviewed also had similar experiences at Bates Dining Hall. “Veggies in the sandwich making area or more variety in the salad bar, which used to be so great pre-COVID, would really make things so much healthier,” Singh said. “I wish they just had more vegetable meal options.”
When interviewees were asked about the “meal equivalence” option, most did not know it existed as an alternative.
“Things are definitely better in the dining halls this year than last year — which really felt like a grim situation,” Mehta said. “But I think there are definitely some things in terms of accessibility that need to be looked into this year too.”