A Queen’s student’s comprehensive guide to TAMs

The ins and outs of the new meal plan system

TAMs logo.

If you’re a first-year student living in residence or an upper-year student on a meal plan like myself, you’ll probably be familiar with the stream of posters currently taped up throughout every food retail location introducing the new TAM system.

“You talked, we listened.” But any student reading this who’s no longer dependent on the University for their meals might still be blissfully unaware of the changes that came to the Queen’s meal plan in September.

In a nutshell, the TAM (Trade-A-Meal) plan has replaced the ever-familiar Meal Equivalency system at every Queen’s retail food location. Instead of having a set budget of $8.75 that can be spent on any combination of food items in place of a meal, students are now confronted with a list of combinations they must strictly adhere to.

This system was a disaster when it was first introduced at the beginning of this year. At the Lazy Scholar, a core meal item could only be combined with a fountain drink and fries. Any attempts to sub in another kind of drink or a different side were denied. For a few weeks, this persisted, until different sides were finally added. However, it was exhausting to have to fight to have a salad with your meal instead of fries when this kind of substitution was natural the year before.

Even now, some of the combinations have been kept incredibly rigid – I’ve tried to purchase almond milk instead of a milk carton and been stopped at the cash register. One of my friends was told she couldn’t get her salad without tomatoes at Botterell because substitutions were no longer allowed. Another was informed hot chocolate couldn’t replace coffee as a drink side in the Biosci Tim Hortons.

Admittedly, Queen’s has one of the best-rated university meal plans in the country, according to a 2015 article from the Huffington Post. We may complain, but the dining hall is decent and the food isn’t too expensive. I shudder whenever I think of the pay-as-you-go systems adopted by schools like Western or McMaster. On the other hand, it’s hard not to complain about a new system that’s decreased value and flexibility for students. Last year’s system was stellar — why change?

One of the most frequent complaints from students about the old system was that adding together their food and trying to reach $8.75 was too much work.

While I agree standing in Location 21 and adding everything together on my phone calculator to get the most value for my meal equivalency was annoying, I don’t think the new system is easier to navigate. For example, some of the sushi platters in locations like Lazy Scholar or Location 21 are eligible for TAMs, but some aren’t. Personally, I’d rather have to go on my calculator for 30 seconds than dig through a display of sushi containers looking for a tiny TAM sticker.

One additional obstacle I’ve encountered has been being vegan on the new meal plan. While my dietary preference always leads to some extra work no matter where I go, the TAM system has lessened my options even more than before. Although more vegan options are being introduced to campus retail locations like Loco Bread, almond milk and vegan baked goods, none of them are part of a TAM combo.

At the end of the day, the University should put students first. It should listen to our feedback — like it once attempted to do — and modify the meal plan system accordingly. It might be too much to ask for the old meal plan back, but I’ll settle for anything other than TAMs.

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