OPINION: Wasted Meal Swipes Shouldn't Go To Multinational Corporations

Good food ain’t cheap. For one semester, Scripps College students pay $3,711 for 16 meals per week, and prices are similar to that at the other Claremont Colleges. If you are on the 16 meal plan, this translates to $13.87 per meal (excluding the included Flex dollars), and if you get 12 meals per week, you’re paying $17.14 for every meal.

This is what we signed up for. Liberal arts colleges are an investment, and for the most part, we get what we pay for: high-quality education, comfortable dorms, and an endless variety of food.

But some weeks, we don’t get what we pay for: When students miss meals, their irretrievable meal swipes go unused, and their money goes elsewhere. If 5C students who pay for their meals do not consume their food, dining halls should ensure that such meals will be consumed by people who need them.

We live to the east of Los Angeles: No one can pretend there isn’t a staggering need for food in the surrounding area. As of 2017, 1.4 million people live with food insecurity in L.A. County, making it the largest food insecure population in America, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Efforts have been made in the past to donate unused meal swipes. For example, Pitzer College’s Community Engagement Center (CEC) hosts a meal swipe donation drive every Thanksgiving. They send food from McConnell Dining Hall to the nearby Pomona Day Labor Center, which provides food for local day laborers during the annual Misa Jornalera, or Day Laborer Mass. However, for this event, Pitzer students cannot give past unused meal swipes; rather, they must donate future meals. Students must tell the CEC that they would like to donate their upcoming Saturday dinner meal, which defeats the purpose of utilizing already wasted meals.

While meal donations such as that of Pitzer’s are valuable to the community, they are difficult to execute. According to CEC staff member and Pitzer Community Fellow Daniela Alvarenga, the CEC staff must manually enter each student’s ID number to receive the student’s portion of food. The food must then be transported from the dining hall, get cooked, and become packaged for day laborers and their families. Staff must give entire days to organize and spread the word about these events.

Though it would be ideal if the colleges could regularly hold these donations, it is a lot to ask of a consortium already trying to serve over 7,000 students daily.

I propose a more streamlined solution. First, a monetary value is assigned to each meal swipe. If you do the math, this monetary value already exists: For example, when averaging the price per meal of a 12- versus 16-meal plan at Scripps, this value comes out to $15.50 per meal. At Pitzer, the average price students pay for one meal is $14.30.

The total number of unused meal swipes is tallied by each college at the end of each week (a process that already occurs automatically on the dining halls’ computers). Then, this total is multiplied by the average price-per-meal; if there were 100 unused meal swipes in one week at Scripps, this would result in $1,550 worth of unconsumed food.

In lieu of the complications and difficulties of organizing physical meal donations, I propose that the colleges donate this sum of money every week to organizations dedicated to ending food insecurity and homelessness, like L.A. Kitchen, Volunteers of East Los Angeles, or the Downtown Women’s Center, all of which are nonprofits working to reduce food waste and provide jobs for those in need.

If the money from our unused swipes at Scripps is not being donated, it is going to one of the largest multinational corporations in the world, Sodexo, which has faced countless grievances regarding the company’s low wages, unfair labor practices, anti-union behavior, and low-quality food. (In 2013, their beef products tested positive for horse DNA.) Sodexo is one of the companies on the Fortune Global 500 list and saw a nearly $20 billion revenue in 2011.

This company does not need the money from our overpriced meals. The $15 from our unused meal swipes could easily buy 2-3 days worth of food for a person, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

It’s our money, and it’s being wasted every week going to a billion-dollar multinational corporation, while it could be put towards ending Los Angeles’s enormous food insecurity crisis.

Let’s demand what we want from our schools.

I urge students to begin by emailing their dining halls’ general managers, whose emails can be found on each dining hall’s website, for if no one expresses demand, Sodexo will have no reason to change their practices. Tell them you think this system is unfair. Tell them you don’t want your money wasted. If we each sent one email, a body of 7,000 students could have more impact than we might think.