On April 26, Harvest Table released new meal plan options for fall 2023 on its website and in a post on the Brandeis Hospitality Instagram, provoking criticism from students.

Most of the changes affect meal plans for students who live in traditional on-campus residence halls. Rather than selecting from traditional meal plans offering a choice between 10, 12, 15, or 19 meal swipes per week, which are the current options, students will have the choice between two “all-access” meal plans. According to the Brandeis Hospitality website, the all-access meal plans will eliminate meal periods and allow students to “enter [Brandeis’] residential dining locations as often as [they] want throughout the day.”

The two options for meal plans come with a stark reduction of 250 and 175 points and only allow students 10 or 5 meal exchanges per week, respectively. The new options are priced at $4,180 and $3,829, both more expensive than the current most expensive meal plan, the 19-meal plan, which is priced at $3,775.

The only change to other meal plans, such as block plans and meal plans for graduate and commuter students and faculty, is a price increase. For instance, the 80-block plan available to students living on campus in apartment-style housing will increase from $1,355 to $1,415. Other changes made to meal plans at large include the option to use meal swipes at Einstein Bros. Bagels and Starbucks, as well as the ability to add points throughout the semester.

Harvest Table’s decision comes in the wake of a petition that parents of several Brandeis students and alumni addressed to the Brandeis administration on April 5. The petition details complaints of food contamination and unsafe food preparation — referring to several pictures posted to the Brandeis Parents Facebook page depicting “vermin in food” and “prepared chicken, served to students, with feathers attached” — as well as limited diversity in food choices. 

Requests outlined in the petition include allowing students to use meal swipes at any dining location on campus, expanding made-to-order options such as those currently available at La Sabrosa and Greens & Grains, improving the diversity and affordability of food options in the the Hoot Market, and hiring external monitoring bodies to provide inspections and reports on food safety in the dining halls. 

The petition also asked that current meal plan options be retained, calling “planned changes which would significantly minimize student access to non-Aramark vendors” unsatisfactory and unacceptable. Harvest Table is an independent division of Aramark.  It is unclear how the petitioners learned about the planned changes to the meal plans prior to their official release, and whether the petition factored into Harvest Table’s decision-making process. Harvest Table did not respond to the Justice’s request for comment.

Many students were also similarly dissatisfied with the changes, expressing their frustrations in the comments of the Instagram post that revealed the new meal plans.

Some students pointed out the impracticality of the decision and echoed parents’ concerns about food safety and lack of options, particularly for students who have dietary restrictions or follow certain diets.

One student wrote, “this is the most heinous choice you could’ve made when students constantly report food poisoning, maggots in the food, no options for those with dietary restrictions, and lack of space in the dining hall for students.”

Another student expressed their concerns about the reduction of points for the new meal plans and its implications for access to Kosher options. “As a Kosher student, the only places I can eat will be Sherman [and] the deli — both of which have issues with food quality … most of us rely on our points to buy the very, very, very overpriced kosher food at the C-store.”

Other students were frustrated with Harvest Table’s lack of transparency and accountability. In response to several student comments expressing concerns around the new meal plans, the Brandeis Hospitality account appeared to have copied and pasted a message asking students to use the “contact us” page on the Brandeis Hospitality website to share their feedback. 

A student wrote, “It’s upsetting to see this copied and pasted response to people who have valid concerns about these new meal plans. You need to be accountable and transparent instead of preaching that you are listening to the students and deflecting issues. Do better, Harvest Table - this is embarrassing.”

The Brandeis Hospitality account also seemed to have copied and pasted a message in response to several student comments that questioned the claim that the changes to the meal plans reflect student feedback. The comment describes how a committee that included “representatives from the Provost’s Office, Student Affairs, Finance & Administration, the grad schools, A&S [School of Arts and Sciences], [and] the Student Union” was involved in making the changes. The comment also suggests that the development of the new meal plans was informed by “an inclusive 7-month process with stakeholder interviews … vendor materials posted online, a portal through which we received close to 400 comments (mostly from students), and community presentations attended by hundreds of students, faculty, and staff.”

In response to students’ concerns about the price of the new meal plans, Brandeis Hospitality wrote that the “All Access +5 [meal plan] is priced the same as the current 12 Meal Plan plus the year over year increase. In otherwords [sic], if the 12 Meal Plan was being carried into next year, it would be priced the same as the All Access + 5 plan.” 

For context, the current 12 meal plan costs $3,673, while the All Access + 5 Weekly Meal Exchanges plan will cost $3,829. These prices reflect a $156 cost difference which is a stark contrast from the $30 to $70 year-over-year increases in costs for the meal plans that have not changed. For instance, the 80-block meal plan for students living in apartment-style housing will increase by $60 — from $1,355 to $1,415 — while the 60-block meal plan for commuter and graduate students will increase by $35, from $835 to $870. 

The changes to meal plans come at a time where students are increasingly dissatisfied with Brandeis administration amidst protests about housing and accommodation denials. It is unclear how Brandeis Hospitality will move forward in addressing student concerns about quality of dining on campus.