UA should allow ethical meal plan exemptionsBy Mike Smith | 09/26/2016 8:58pm
A Bama Dining employee serves lunch to a student at Lakeside Dining Hall.
Throughout my entire life, I have never really enjoyed eating. Sure, I liked fancy meals or home cooked comfort food, but the actual mechanical task of eating three square meals a day always proved bothersome. I am not an especially busy person, but taking three hours out of my day everyday is a pain in the neck.
My freshman year on the University's campus was brutal. All of my money was wrapped up paying for my freshman meal plan, so my only option was to make the trek to and from Lakeside three times a day. This problem is not truly difficult or unique, but I had a real kicker thrown in on top.
I'm a vegan.
The expedition for food did not stop at the dining hall door. Instead, I spent a good 10 minutes each trip looking up which plates were vegan. Then, I would solemnly take a single plate of what usually turned out to be the only option for me, whether it be rice, fries or steamed vegetables.
This is not only an issue for vegans. People who follow the dietary restrictions of kosher, halal and ahimsa traditions are left with few choices. Add in vegetarians, pescatarians and people who only eat raw foods, and there are potentially hundreds of students paying upwards of three thousand dollars for a meal plan they can't come close to fully utilizing.
Before I continue, I want to address that I am not against meal plans. Freshman meal plans provides a stable, healthy resource for students so they don't get overwhelmed during their first year. Bama Dining also does a fantastic job posting online menus with allergen warnings, nutritional information and dietary restriction labels.
I understand why there is only one or two vegan dishes a day. It is impractical to make entirely new meal schedules based on the needs of only a small percentage of students. That is why I am not asking for Bama Dining to become more vegan/kosher/raw friendly.
Instead, students with dietary restrictions for religious or ethical reasons should be exempted from the freshman meal plan requirement altogether. Bama Dining already has an exemption form, but allowances are for medical reasons only. Adding on another box to the form to include ethical reasons is not uncommon, let alone unheard of.
The most appropriate example is Auburn University. Tiger Dining is extremely similar to Bama Dining, except their exemptions forms allow students whose "beliefs impose dietary restrictions that cannot by metby Tiger Dining" be exempted.
Of course, there is a catch. In order to prevent every student from taking advantage of this loophole, Auburn requires applicants to submit a "signed, written explanation" from the student's religious or ethical counsel, like a rabbi or a mullah. To be honest, that is a fair trade.
I recognize that the University would be losing over three thousand dollars of revenue, and at least a few hundred bucks of profit, for every student who gets a meal plan exemption. Therefore, students should be required to prove that their beliefs are legitimate and that not having a meal plan would be in the best interest of their health.
Hopefully, the University will follow the footsteps of other universities across the nation and allow meal plan exemptions for religious and ethical reasons. While this change may not mean anything to most students on campus, for some freshman students, it can mean the world.
Mike Smith is a sophomore majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly.