mar26editorialcolorMeal plans should be optional for all students living in residence.

As it is, Algonquin is forcing first-year students in residence to pay for a mandatory meal plan. This can put some students into compromising and, in certain cases, unsafe situations.

Further, minimum cost students living in residence have to pay under the plan is $1,990. That price will increase by three per cent this fall.

The plan should be optional for all first-year students, especially those with special dietary needs.

Julian Fontaine, a first-year student living in Algonquin residence, suffers an intolerance to dairy products and eggs. Even though there are food options available without dairy and eggs, a number of foods cause Fontaine to feel sick, limiting his meal options drastically.

In additional to his allergies, Fontaine has been unable to maintain his meal plan payments because of financial hardship. Still, Fontaine is not allowed out of the meal plan and no compromise has been reached.

He is unfortunately not the only student in this type of situation.

This is not fair.

Without reason and money for the plan, Fontaine discontinued his payments this semester. He was told by email that this resulted in an encumbrance, affecting Fontaine’s ability to switch a course, view his grades, and receive his transcript.

Fontaine has to buy specific brands and types of foods. Because of this, he cooks most of his own meals with food purchased from grocery stores, rendering his meal plan useless. Suggesting items that could be implemented in to the food options on campus is something Food Services encourages, but this would not benefit Fontaine.

In a time of students being buried in loan debts, Fontaine’s financial situation is not uncommon. The cost to live in residence for the academic year of 2015 to 2016 before the cost of the meal plan ranges from $7,210 to $7,360, depending on the method of payment.

Of course, the college is not a grocery store and can’t always accommodate to everyone’s personal food requirements. This is especially true for students suffering an allergy or disease with dietary restrictions.

According to the college, the average price a student pays for the meal plan is $2,300 a year, higher than the lowest option of $1,990, making it evident that some students see the convenience in the meal plan. Some students who are not in their first year of studies and live in residence often choose to use a meal plan, the college says.

Since first-year students in residence are not the only ones investing in the meal plan, it raises the question: why are they the only ones forced to be on the plan?

As part of the meal plan at Algonquin, students can purchase foods from nine different locations. Two locations of the nine are Starbucks and Tim Hortons, fast-food franchises famously known for a variety of desserts, coffee and a number of sugary drinks. Although these stores provide some healthy food options, they are still chains recognized for items that are expensive and overloaded with calories.

Algonquin fortunately provides nutritional facts for most of the foods from all of the locations on campus. The fact sheets identify the levels of cholesterol, fat, and other compositional elements of a number of foods at the college.

And Algonquin isn’t alone in its policy.

Starting this fall at the University of Ottawa, 50 per cent of students living in residence will have to pay a minimum fee of $3,500 for a five day meal plan. Only the students with kitchen facilities won’t be forced into this payment.

The meal plan at Carleton University is integrated directly in to total residence fees, making a plan unavoidable.

Much like Algonquin, there are no opt out options available.

The University of Ottawa and Carleton University promote visiting an on-site dietician to discuss the best options for dietary success. For some, visiting a dietician could be a highly rewarding experience. For students who have visited dieticians in the past and have established a regime based on their personal needs, like Fontaine, this suggestion may almost be insulting. If a student knows when a food plan is not benefiting them, a hassle to get out of the plan should not exist and a plan should be optional from the beginning.

Algonquin’s director of ancillary services Brent Brownlee believes that some students don’t budget properly. There is truth to Brownlee’s statement. Some students could have never foreseen the lack of accommodation available for them when budgeting for a meal plan. They also likely didn’t budget being met with difficulties when trying to withdraw from the plan.

Brownlee stated that there have been rare cases in the past of students being allowed off of the plan but believes there is a blurry line deciphering who should be allowed off of the plan and who shouldn’t. But the line doesn’t have to be blurry, or even exist.

Just give students the option to choose their own food, and to opt out when hardship happens.