Magdalen meal proposals cause a stir

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PHOTO//Roel Wijnants

In their JCR’s Facebook group, Magdalen students have reacted angrily to proposals from College about changing the system of meal provision in Hall.

The proposals, put forward by Home Bursar Mark Blandford-Baker for discussion in House Committee last Tuesday, involved replacing the current system as it operates from Sunday to Friday with a new system of two identical three-course meals, featuring an informal 45 minute-long earlier sitting, followed by a formal later sitting.

However, students would have to book for both sittings as they currently do for formal, and the price system was described by the Bursar as “reflect[ing] the economies of scale that would come out of this”.

Opposition to the proposals emerged quickly, with the Bursar’s reassurance that the College’s Old Kitchen Bar’s opening hours would be extended until 8pm dismissed by the students as a choice between “a panini or a three-course served dinner”.

Students also criticised the fact that they would lose choice, be expected to eat a three-course meal in 45 minutes, and expressed concerns that the proposed new booking system would be a hassle or easy to forget. Few expected lower prices, with some saying they simply would not be able to afford a three-course meal.

However, there were also concerns about the effect on formal, with the proposed system compared by students to that at St John’s, where formal “really wasn’t a thing”. Moreover, students took the opportunity to criticise meal provisions in more general terms, bemoaning small formal portions of “a piece of chicken with a single broccolum”, while the College’s alleged propensity for “taking the fucking piss” led one student to suggest “a career change into kidney dialysis”.

Some were even blunter, accusing the College of “trying to solve their financial cockups with stupid and exploitative bollocks”.

Regardless, not all comments were so pessimistic. A formal enthusiast asked “who doesn’t love a three-course meal?” and mooted mandating gowns for both sittings, while another commenter expressed hope for “an improvement of the food”, and suggested that Magdalen could aim for Christ Church’s Hall prices, which are “not too bad”.

One person claimed that the Old Kitchen Bar’s extended opening hours “would be nice”, although others described its cooking facilities as limited. Some, meanwhile, preferred to stay on the argument’s sidelines, with one person acerbically commenting: “[I]t’s a shame no-one has any strong opinions on issues like these any more.”

Magdalenites have claimed that the argument reflected a continued deterioration in relations between the JCR and College, based in the debacle over a catering charge introduced in Michaelmas that resulted in students boycotting Hall.

Tom Edkins, a second-year English student, claimed: “With […] no official response to the fact that Magdalen would become the most expensive college in Oxford, and an increasing number of petty bureaucratic disputes between individual students and the College’s administration, many feel that the proposed changes to the hall system are the latest in a long line of events that demonstrates a callous disregard for JCR members as individuals and the reputation of the College as a whole.”

However, a Magdalen fresher, who asked to remain anonymous, praised the existing “cheap, convenient” system, and said that “several good suggestions have been made by JCR members; only with better communication between College and the JCR will this problem be solved quickly and painlessly”. Although “the JCR won’t stand for them making us suffer at the expense of their poor organisation”.

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