Column: GW should accelerate meal swipe transition to address inflation

After promising three all-you-can-eat dining halls would open in time for the school year roughly a year in advance, GW conceded their debut would not go as planned this summer. Instead, officials have clung to their dining dollar meal plan this semester while the state of food insecurity that they sought to combat persists across campus and inflation drives sharp food price increases. To address an already-fragile dining system foiled by high prices and inflation, GW should accelerate its long-overdue transition to an unlimited system and offer free meal swipes at its two dining halls so students can afford to eat on campus for the remainder of the semester.

After restaurants in Foggy Bottom raised the price of menu items in response to inflation last spring, GW has failed to pad its students’ pockets with dining dollar balances adjusted to the changes in the economy. The Consumer Price Index indicates inflation spiked the price of food by nearly 11 percent over the last year, a change that reduces the value of students’ stagnant dining dollar balances. Campus staples like GW Deli, Tonic and Carvings were all forced to make food more expensive to accommodate the rising costs of goods in the United States. John Ambrogi, the owner of GW Deli, said current food and produce prices are the highest he has ever seen them.

Students who relied on the same dining dollar meal plan last spring were forced to evaluate which meals mattered most while soaring prices threatened to break their banks under the pressure of inflation. Such financial burden should warrant action from officials who set up residential students for inevitable food insecurity without any extra financial support. Officials are right to transition their dining system to a meal-swipe-oriented plan for the spring semester. GW ought to own up to the shortcomings of its current system and switch over to meal swipes even sooner for residents looking to conserve their dwindling GWorld funds.

GWorld vendors’ rising prices make budgeting a much more difficult task than it should be. Students can spend their dining dollars at 80 partnered private GWorld vendors ranging from Starbucks, with drinks reaching up to $7, to Tonic, where more than half the menu exceeds $15. The University boasts the Meal Deals that GWorld vendors offer, but these student discounts which can cost between $10 and $18 – only apply to a fifth of those restaurants and are hardly advertised outside of District House.

Students can add funds to their GWorld cards at any time to make up for missing dining dollars, but not every student can afford to do so. The $2,700 allocated to freshmen under the current meal plan amounts to roughly $23 a day, while upperclassmen are left with less than $15 a day. By assigning funds that do not logistically last an entire semester for students who eat three meals a day, GW’s assumption that every student can refill their balance whenever it hits zero is terribly shortsighted.

A conversion to unlimited meal swipes at newly opened dining halls was supposed to be the saving grace for students suffering from food insecurity this fall. Off-brand versions of Chick-fil-a and Chipotle in the District House food court substituted plans for an unlimited dining hall, while delays to the opening of the dining venues in Thurston and Shenkman halls forced officials to pause the switch to meal swipes until the spring. Shenkman’s dining hall will alleviate some of the long lines and overcrowding caused by an overflow of students at the recently opened Thurston dining hall, but the implementation of meal swipes is essential to the success of its new dining venues. And while buying groceries might seem like a simple alternative, Whole Foods remains far too expensive for students to buy groceries with their GWorld funds, which the more affordable Trader Joe’s won’t accept. Without cheaper dining halls, restaurants and grocery stores, students truly have no option for affordable food.

Though October’s consumer price index reading showed that prices were rising at a slightly slower rate across the country, food prices in D.C. shouldn’t be dropping anytime before this semester ends. GW’s switch to a traditional meal swipe system next semester can’t come soon enough, so much so that officials owe students a “soft launch” – one that allocates three meal swipes per day at Thurston’s dining hall and The Eatery at Pelham Commons so students can afford to eat. The country’s fifth most expensive city’s food prices might remain at historic-highs, but buying a coffee shouldn’t mean a student can’t have lunch, too. The University must address its miscalculated meal plan to ensure that students can afford to eat at both GW’s dining halls and GWorld vendors before their funds run dry prior to the semester’s end.

Matthew Donnell, a junior majoring in political communication and English, is an opinions writer.

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