The Campus Food Trap

Every student knows that they probably shouldn’t be buying food on campus, but it’s so easy, so greasy, so good and easy…

The truth is that campus eating options are a laziness trap that ensnare far too many of us every day.  Let’s be honest, who is more susceptible to a laziness trap than students are?  As a group we are pretty much the definition of “taking the path of least resistance” and not really well known for our obsessions with preparation.  This often leads to lunches not being made in the morning and all of the sudden, “Oh, I’m starving, class starts in 15 minutes, and I have nothing to eat … guess I’ll hit up the piazza place again.”  There is nothing wrong with picking up lunch on the go once in a while, but I think many students would be shocked at how much they spend on campus eating options every year.

Monopoly – The Game Schools Love

The thing about food prices on campuses across Canada is that they are very rarely impacted by any sort of free market.  See, in most cases a large food services company (most often the giant Aramark) pays the post-secondary institution a ton of money in order to give them the exclusive rights to sell food most places on campus (in economics 101 we called this a monopoly and it was illegal in most areas of Canadian business if I remember, but I’m no expert).  Everyone wins because the school makes lot of money, the company makes lots of money and the students … oh wait … well, they have lots of student loan money so they’ll be fine.  The arrangement is so productive that most schools have similar agreements for soda and alcohol as well as many other lesser-known areas.  The end result is that one company basically gets to determine prices across campus.  I’m sure most companies hesitate to exploit the structural advantage they enjoy considering most on-campus clientele are brought there by public transit and consequently are willing to pay a fairly large premium for convenient food and beverage options … but somehow they get over that hesitation and do it anyway.

campus food monopoly
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That’s a Lot of Piazza

When you combine the premium-inflated food prices with students’ favorite ultra-high profit beverage – coffee – you get a whole lot of money flowing out of our pockets.  Think about how many coffees or meals you buy on campus each week you’re in school.  I have no idea what the average is, but let’s say three coffees and two meals (and I think that’s being fairly conservative).  If we say the average coffee is $2 and the average meal will set you back $10, that’s $26 per week.  Most students are on campus at least 32 weeks a year, so that’s $832 every eight months.  Many students would be much closer the $1,500 mark in my estimation, but all the same, it is kind of eye-opening when you consider how little the classic “brown bag” lunch costs right?

Not only do on campus options cost, but there is a reason that 18 year olds have created a phrase known as, “The Freshmen 15”.  Food options are becoming better at fast food places every day, but again, businesses can only go where the demand is, and most students (we’re not exactly masters of impulse control) will still choose the piazza or burger & fries over the salad most of the time.  I’m definitely no expert on healthy eating, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that packing your own lunch at home, when you are not a slave to temptation and drive by hunger, will likely result in healthier choices the majority of the time.

If you want a quick way to keep some money in your pocket, and a strategy that gives you a maximum amount of empty calories to allocate to beer consumption, then stay away from the expensive frou frou coffees, $8 smoothies, and greasy campus food.  I know it’s easier said than done, and I’m definitely being hypocritical when I advise others in this way, but the truth really does bear out when you start putting the arithmetic together.  Save those student loans for the stuff that really matters … like Tuesday night drink specials!

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