In September, when I started my second year at Queen's and my first year as a residence Don, I was vaguely optimistic about being on the Queen's meal plan for another eight months. Sure, it had its downsides when I was a frosh, but not having to cook meals and being able to grab food from places like Pita Pit, Tim Horton’s and Location 21 without worry was definitely a highlight.

I learned in this year's frosh week, however, that the meal plan was about to change drastically. Some aspects were awesome, like the “Weekly 18” meals becoming “Weekly 19,” but one major detail of the new plan has me really wondering if change is always a good thing. 

Any upper-year student will fondly remember meal equivalencies, the magical 200 retail meals you could use throughout the year. This meant that you could roll up to any on-campus retail food location and get $8.75 worth of food for one "meal equiv". In some places, like Tim Hortons, that amount could get you two meal's worth of food, plus a snack for later.

Sadly, the class of 2021 will never know this freedom. This year, the Queen's meal plan changed, with "TAM's" (Trade a Meal's) being added. Every retail location has a limited amount of food combinations that can be purchased with the meal plan.

For example, at the Lazy Scholar in Victoria Hall, you have to get a drink alongside an item like a burrito or burger in order to qualify for a TAM.  I don't even like any of the drink options I'm allowed to get, but I grab them anyways because I have to.

Another problem I've noticed is that the value of our 200 yearly retail meals has decreased. Even though some TAM combos have a dollar value of $9, the majority of meals are now only valued between $5-$6. Whereas I could grab a bag of chips on the side of my meal in the past, now I'm stuck with only the main item, a drink, and fries or a salad. 

Some items in retail outlets are only available for purchase with Flex $ or cash/debit, too. Location 21 just introduced a delicious vegan pizza bread called "Loco Bread", but it isn't able to be combined into any kind of TAM. I don't want to spend my money on food when it was supposed to be covered by my meal plan.

I don't want to sound ungrateful. Compared to other universities in Ontario, the Queen's meal plan is pretty good. Hospitality services has also made a point to listen to student's feedback on certain items. Originally, you could only get a fountain drink, mostly soda, with your TAMs. Now, there are additional drink options to choose from. Definitely a step in the right direction.

On the other hand, I still think the old meal equivalency system is much better. Giving students the power to choose every aspect of their meal on the plan that they paid for is just common sense. As for myself, the meal plan is part of my salary as a Don, and I kind of expect to be paid with a quality service, not a complicated and limiting system.

If you purchased the Queen's meal plan, send your thoughts to Queen's Hospitality Services through their feedback page. This is how most of the positive changes have been enacted so far!