PORTER: Munchie Marts have never been worse

Vanderbilt’s new two-swipe system unveiled this fall is destroying the Munchie Mart system.
Graphic depicting a student shopping in a Munchie Mart (Hustler Multimedia/Zarrin Zahid).
Graphic depicting a student shopping in a Munchie Mart (Hustler Multimedia/Zarrin Zahid).
Zarrin Zahid

Do you love meals portioned for a baby bird? If so, Munchie Marts will be right up your alley this school year.

Per a new Campus Dining policy implemented this fall, students are limited to two meal swipes per day across all Munchie Marts. As if the Munchie Marts could not suffer more, Vanderbilt decided to beat the dead horse one more time by harshly limiting students’ access to grab-and-go food options, providing an all-time low variety of foods for purchase. Under the new system, students cannot have a full day of Munchie Mart meals, forcing them to either skip a meal or wait through the long lines at a traditional dining hall. In addition, the post-COVID-19 Munchie Mart options are slim, even with a sufficient number of swipes.

It is nonsensical to limit choices within student meal swipes at all. Dining halls are only open until 9:00 p.m. CST., and students often cannot eat at them during the day due to closures, classes or crowds. Take Rand Dining Hall as an example: the most central, expansive dining hall on campus is closed for dinner and on weekends. Even when it is open, the crowds between classes make it hard to drop in for a quick meal. However, the motive behind the swipe limit seems clear: profit, profit, profit. 

Since dining halls are often closed, such as Rand’s aforementioned prudent schedule, and it is inconvenient for students to use meal swipes at Munchie Marts due to daily limits on purchases, students often use their own money or commodore cash to purchase snacks or meals outside of meal-swipe locations. In other words, pre-paid meal swipes often go to waste while students spend their own money on food; this surplus of swipes is pure monetary profit for the university. While the university is making financial decisions for its own best interest, they directly disadvantage students who are already spending an outrageous amount of money on a meal plan—$3,785 for freshmen, $3,747 for sophomores and juniors and $3,336 for seniors per semester.

The motive behind the swipe limit seems clear: profit, profit, profit. 

This decision, in addition to being incredibly inconvenient for students who enjoy Munchie meals, disproportionately affects a few particular groups of students. Firstly, students who live and study far away from main campus rely heavily on Munchie Marts. This includes students who live on Highland Quad and students studying in the Blair School of Music. These students, who may spend most of their day far from the many dining halls of main campus, are served by the Highland Munchie Mart. Secondly, students with dietary restrictions and food aversions may struggle to be served in traditional dining halls. Munchie Marts offer a range of grab-and-go meals for gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and allergy-sensitive students, with pre-packaged meals that limit cross-contamination and clear labeling that ensures that these students are eating appropriate foods for their diet. Finally, students who operate on atypical schedules, such as athletes or STEM students in night labs, may struggle to get to dining halls during mealtimes. Even students without atypical circumstances can be negatively affected by long lines and limited service.

On top of their overtly profit-driven tactics, Vanderbilt Campus Dining decided to reduce the nutritional completeness of meals at the Munchie Marts while still limiting swipe access. When buying a salad, a student must get a side in order to purchase a protein. The container of lettuce itself is an entree, grilled chicken is a side and extra salad topping such as lentils is an additional side. Pair that with a drink, and you have to spend an entire swipe to complete a salad, while a whole salad counts as a single side in most dining halls. Some entrees in the Munchie Marts are limited to only one side, including items like smoothies or protein shakes. I often use both of my daily swipes just to eat one meal with a smoothie, sandwich, fruit and chips, since really, who can be satiated with a protein shake and chickpeas? 

The norm used to be that students could spend excess swipes on a Sunday night to complete grocery shopping for the week, but this new system forces students to either go to the Munchie Marts daily for their shopping or spend precious meal money on groceries that are already overpriced, exemplified through the mark-ups on market basket items and canned drinks. This is simply unacceptable when considering that on the meal plan, a single meal swipe comes out to $10.50+ for first-years, $11.30+ for sophomores and juniors and $13+ for seniors. Is a salad worth $13? Furthermore, are a salad and a protein shake worth $26? I would be outraged to spend this much at a grocery store or restaurant, so why spend that much on my dining plan? Adding insult to injury, the meal plan cost increased this year while meal portions were seemingly reduced, and options were limited. 

A Munchie Mart employee who is a junior in the Blair College of Music expressed that, from both the perspective of an employee and student, they are frustrated by the change in policy. The student is being kept anonymous due to fear of job retribution.

“People get confused, annoyed and so on when I have to tell them that they can’t use their swipe because they’ve used too many. It makes my job a lot less pleasant, and I always feel bad telling people that they have to pay a different way,” the student said. “It also makes the lines take longer because it holds things up. I’m also a Blair student and I live at Highland, so Highland Munchie is my bestie for food, and the swipe limit makes that really inconvenient as well.”

The Munchie Mart system has likely been damaged to the point of needing an entire upheaval in addition to an essential re-examination of its central purpose: if it does not exist to serve convenient, quality meals to students, then why does it exist at all?

This perspective is incredibly valuable, as it expresses the central point of my argument: Munchie Marts are failing in so many different categories. They have massively declined in quality even in just the three years I have been attending the university, while the general sentiment is that the food offerings at Munchie pre-COVID-19 were broader and higher quality, with foods such as a variety of baked goods and ice cream. Logically, what Munchie Marts sacrifice in quality should be made up for in convenience or accessibility, but this hasn’t been the case. Not only is the food often poor quality, with soggy bread or bruised fruit, but it has also lost its convenient appeal due to how little food can be purchased there daily. Pair this with the crowds and limited hours at the dining halls, and the picture begins to form as to why the entire system seems to be designed with an eye to profit rather than the well-being of students. It naturally follows that this frustration would extend to staff, both on behalf of the students that they serve and the inconvenience that this policy poses to their jobs.

The Munchie Mart system has likely been damaged to the point of needing an entire upheaval in addition to an essential re-examination of its central purpose: if it does not exist to serve convenient, quality meals to students, then why does it exist at all? Until these issues are addressed, I believe that the Munchie Marts will continue a downward spiral between quality and portion cuts until nothing is left at all.

Until then, you will see me surviving off protein bars, string cheese, applesauce and disdain for Vanderbilt Campus Dining.

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About the Contributors
Briley Porter, Staff Writer
Briley Porter (‘25) is from Franklin, Ga., and is majoring in human and organizational development and Russian studies. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, playing video games and going to the gym. You can reach her at [email protected].
Zarrin Zahid, Staff Writer and Graphics Staffer
Zarrin Zahid (‘26) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in law, history and society and minoring in Islamic studies. Besides The Hustler, she enjoys writing stories, cooking and watching bad horror movies unironically. She can be reached at [email protected].
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F
Facts
2 months ago

The food in Munchies genuinely suck. There’s been plenty of times where I found mold in my food (in my cheese sticks, grape cups) or just general rot (salads and lentils). As a result, I don’t trust the salads at the Munchie Mart anymore because they’re usually dripping wet and mushy at the bottom, and I always double check what I get before I check out because lo and behold, at a closer glance, the food is inedible.

The food also don’t have much of a variety, and it’s hard to get a balanced meal when the average sandwich at the Munchie is like half of your sodium intake and other foods like the lo mein contain like 20g of sugar.

As a result of this, I just eat protein bars. That’s my breakfast/lunch/dinner during test weeks when I don’t have time.

E
Education major
2 months ago

As an education major, the current policy is absolutely ridiculous. I’m not even on campus for most of the day, so munchies are the only way I can get food.

T
truth teller
2 months ago

pop off queen. i’m so hungry