First-year students at the University of Maine are required to buy an “unlimited” meal plan with the lowest possible price being $2,511 per semester. This is more than twice as much as the average American pays for meals every day.
According to Kerry Chasteen, the associate director of UMaine Dining, the auxiliary service aims to provide flexibility to students with dietary restrictions. Despite this, the university does not offer any pricing alternatives to its $5,022-a-year requirement.
Sophia VanDerburgh, a student at UMaine, is allergic to onions, all dairy, is sensitive to gluten and made the decision to be a vegetarian when she was 10 after watching the documentary “Food Inc.” After transferring to UMaine following her first semester at the University of Maine at Farmington in the spring of 2017, VanDerburgh was required to live in a residence hall and buy the full meal plan, as are all students living in campus housing.
“I don’t even remember what I even ate, because I couldn’t eat anything there,” VanDerburgh said.
Each dining hall has one small refrigerator stocked with gluten-free options. According to VanDerburgh, it doesn’t hold much in terms of variety.
“It was only really processed gluten-free things,” VanDerburgh said. “I wasn’t trying to only eat a gluten-free cupcake. The salad bar was the only thing that kept me going.”
The most conservative estimate, assuming that students eat three meals a day, every day of the semester adds up to meals being $7.47 a piece, or $22 dollars a day. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends $12 dollars a day on food.
UMaine students pay around twice that of the average American, and for students who are unable to eat sizable sections of the menu, this is an extra burden.
“I always had to have snacks in my room to be able to eat enough,” VanDerburgh said. “Whenever I went to the dining hall it was isolating.”
If a student is so allergic to a given ingredient that they have an anaphylactic reaction even from atmospheric contact, the university offers the use of a private kitchen where the student can cook for themselves. To gain access to this kitchen, the university requires documentation of an anaphylactic allergy from a doctor.
There is no alternative to the unlimited plan for students who do not eat certain ingredients due to “lifestyle choices,” in the official language.
Chasteen maintains that UMaine Dining aims to accommodate all diets. She was unable to answer questions regarding the cost of meal plans for different diets.