Fifty Shades of Capital: Bon-App

There are many facets of our social reality influenced by global capitalism; this series serves to highlight the ever-expanding market’s effect on our daily lives. From Bon-App to the environment, capitalism has generated numerous negative consequences around the world.

A parasite has infected LarryU: the parasite of a poorly created meal plan. All the unwavering forces of Lawrence University — Bon-App, the slow bureaucracy and “The Lawrence Difference” — have colluded to inject this parasite into its student body.

In response to these unjust conditions is a rising tide of student solidarity, as exemplified through the cyber-network on Facebook and general sentiments throughout the campus. The ubiquity of these informal protests, coupled with Bon-App’s indifference as it extracts money from us, highlights our predicament quite well.

This is part of a long-term process of ever-increasing profit margins that is essential to any business’ success in a capitalist economy. If Bon-App is to survive in the national market of college campus food service, it needs to find ways to bring greater profits each year. Social consequences be damned: as long as that ledger remains balanced, anything goes. Of course, Bon-App prides itself on its business model of sourcing local foods and using sustainable practices. This is commendable. 

The problem with the meal plan has little to do with sustainability, however, and is all about Bon-App’s relationship to us, the students. Given the profit motive, Bon-App will do whatever it can to get away with as long as the money keeps coming. As capitalism marches on and the economy weans though, more desperate and corrupting measures will be employed to stay afloat. These practices may not be tolerated by the student body, but Lawrence (i.e. Bon-App’s real customer) will continue to allow them, so long as they do not encroach on student enrollment and/or donations, which are the university’s primary sources of income.

Not only does Bon-App innovate new ways of exploiting students every year, but the stringent Lawrence bureaucracy works in its favor as well. Contracts lasting longer than a student’s tenure are penned in ink while our complaints are memorialized via the meme. This unfeeling institution only recognizes forms conforming to the bureaucracy, such as the Student Welfare Committee, rather than those most accessible to the community. And so we have a disconnect between student and university: the changes affecting us the most are unfriendly to the average student too involved with work, classes or activities to meaningfully engage with the bureaucracy.

So how do we get out of this? Obviously, students should send their stories and concerns to the Student Welfare Committee at  swc@lawrence.edu, but structural change is also necessary. First of all, we must remove the monopoly on food. Students are left with few alternatives to the Bon-App system. Group meal plans have limited space, and besides that, we need extenuating circumstances to even get off the thing. This system also discourages students from cooking, eating out, going to Bjork, attending events that provide food or even going home. Furthermore, we are forced to spend the remainder of our culinary cash at the end each term, which only encourages unsustainable consumer habits, or risk wasting money. Frugality is not valued by this meal plan.

Second, we need decision-making and communication to be better integrated into the community. Students should not have to go out of their way to voice their opinions; Lawrence should bring the process to the students, rather than us attending forums and committees. Heck, something as simple as disseminating feedback surveys and referendums in the first five minutes of class is an improvement. Perhaps the university should even look into utilizing social media for this purpose, since the meme page attracts so much traffic. Ultimately, the future lies in moving away from bureaucracy and closer towards a focus on community, as Lawrence likes to emphasize in its infamous department name changes.

Amid all these negative vibes, however, I would like to shine the spotlight on all the workers who make our meals possible. Bon-App is possibly the campus’s largest employer, so there are many people who work a variety of positions in this food service. They are likely underpaid, student workers and all, but I hope my appreciation is enough. Thank you.

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