By Loren Haas
Everyone’s time at Oxford is different. Some students spend their days locked in the OSB, slaving over their latest lab report. Others find themselves in Pierce’s art rooms, painting canvas in the evening. Others still find themselves on the shuttle to Atlanta every chance they have. However, there is at least one place where all Oxford students inevitably spend a massive amount of their time – Lil’s, our dining hall. Whether it’s for a quick sandwich between classes or a floor dinner, every student has to spend a decent amount of time in our campus’s dining hall. However, that doesn’t need to be the case – and honestly shouldn’t be. Diversity in meal plans at Oxford could provide students flexibility and some financial maneuverability.
I’m not going to pretend there are a bunch of options for food in the immediate area. Lil’s has made its way onto the top ten restaurants in the city of Oxford for a reason. But considering that the campus offers weekly transportation to various grocery stores, it’s reasonable to ask for some options for students who actually regularly use these resources so that they’re not just spending themselves into the gutter.
First of all, dining at Oxford is expensive. Next year, the meal plan will cost each student 3,167 dollars each semester. With each semester being about 15 weeks (this semester is exactly 105 days), each individual meal will cost a student 10.05 dollars, which is about the cost of a takeout entrée. Grocery options are distinctly cheaper. For example, a block of tofu, a pound of rice, and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables at Walmart comes out to about $3.70 without tax, and that could cover multiple meals for a single student (with these exact ingredients, I’ve been able to make myself four meals’ worth of food, so that’s about 92 cents per meal). It’s a nutritious meal that students can make for a fraction of the price – and, since students can check out pots and pans from their RA’s office, ingredient cost is the only cost a student necessarily even needs to pay. For low income students, this could lift significant financial burdens and make campus living more affordable and convenient.
Beyond that, the price of Lil’s shown assumes that students are eating at Lil’s for every meal, which simply is not the case for anyone. Students sleep in late on the weekends, have busy class schedules that sometimes conflict with available lunch times and go out with friends or to club events that take them away from the dining hall. Beyond that, not all meals at Lil’s are always accessible for students. At weekend brunch, for example, vegetarians and vegans are often slammed with the choice between the deli and the salad bar – not exactly ideal eating. With these missed meals, the cost of Lil’s steadily rises, making it soon more expensive than even ordering delivery for every single meal.
Enabling students to buy some of their own food also will promote a more diverse diet. Some foods, like nuts and shellfish, are not allowed in the dining hall as potential allergens but are healthy sources of fats and protein that students could consume if they had a little more money to spare. Beyond that, Lil’s simply can only have so much. For example, students can only rely on Lil’s having three different kinds of fruit consistently (apples, oranges, and melons), which, while important parts of a diet, do not exactly provide nutritional diversity. A cheaper meal plan gives the students the chance to change up their diet more, try new foods and ensure that the food they’re eating – even if it’s as simple as being able to work some strawberries into their diet every once in a while – keeps their diet varied.
This isn’t going into the potential psychological benefits of enabling students to cook more meals. A study conducted as recently as 2018 found that cooking improves socialization, self-esteem and general happiness – and college students could definitely use these benefits. Cooking is a social activity that can bring people together much more than a simple meal at Lil’s as students have to work together to create their meals. More than that, cooking proves the opportunity for students to have a taste of home, which is definitely a huge benefit for international students. I’ve spent a good amount of time in Murdy Kitchen over my time at Oxford, and I’d say at least half of the people I’ve seen use the kitchen are international students, making food from home. It keeps homesickness away in a way that the dining hall simply never can – and that’s worth something, even if nothing else I’ve said in this article is.
Lil’s is a great and convenient option, and it is necessary for students to have access to in a city where nothing else is around. But students deserve to have options which will make their college experience more enjoyable and affordable, and right now, they simply don’t with their meal plans. It would only take one cheaper option for students on campus. Not every student would need it or take it – it would just help those who needed it.