Exterior shot of Western Market in Foggy Bottom
Western Market in Foggy Bottom Credit: David Brothers

George Washington University is reshaping its entire meal plan after years of trying different strategies to address the fact that its students face hunger in exceptional numbers. When a 2018 report revealed that nearly 40 percent of George Washington University students experienced food insecurity, the school tried to increase the dining dollars on students’ GWorld cards, which can be used to purchase food at more than a dozen restaurants, supermarkets, and convenience stores in Foggy Bottom. But students are still running out of money before semesters end. 

This is largely because in Foggy Bottom, where the vast majority of the student population lives, the food options under GW’s dining plan include restaurants and grocery stores. Currently, the only all-you-can-eat dining hall is in a first-year dorm located a 30-minute bus ride away.

But come fall 2022, students in Foggy Bottom will begin having access to three new dining halls in the Thurston, District House, and Shenkman Hall residential buildings, according to a GWTODAY statement. Meals there are free under the GWorld dining plan. The dining halls will replace all but one of the restaurants that currently operate in those buildings. 

Drew Whetstone, a sophomore majoring in International Affairs, says that even though he’s eaten just two meals per day since the start of the semester to budget his money, he ran out with more than a month to go in the semester. 

“Now, I really only eat once a day,” he says. “I’ll usually try to eat maybe at 6 or 7 o’clock [in the evening] just because it fills me up for the night and it’ll usually fill me up until about midway through that following day.”

Students living in residence halls with kitchens get $1,617 per semester for dining during the 2021-2022 academic year, while those residing in dorms without kitchens received $2,519. The idea is that those who can cook are expected to spend less, but Whetstone, who has access to a kitchen, says that’s not how it works in practice.

“What they don’t realize is that you have classes, homework, and many other things that you need to do,” he says. “That means you’ll need to be cooking and then you’ll need to be cleaning because they don’t give us a dishwasher. Most people will go across the street to Whole Foods where they’ll spend $5 on a little pack of strawberries, because of how incredibly overpriced it is. So honestly, regardless of whether you cook or you don’t cook, you’re destined to run out of money.”

Whetstone got a job as a server in a restaurant close to Foggy Bottom to help pay for food and other expenses. “I wasn’t expecting to have a job in D.C. except for an internship,” he says. 

Isaac Appelbaum, who received the same money allotment as Whetstone, says his funds ran out around the same time. “It’s a little tough because I don’t want to go to my parents and ask for money,” he says. “It’s a little embarrassing, and I know they’re going to be disappointed. But I don’t know a single other person who’s not having money issues.”

Appelbaum, a first year student, says he had no idea how to budget money when he moved to D.C.

“I think GW didn’t do enough to educate us on how to manage GWorld money,” he says. “When you come to GW, everything is really a lot more expensive because you are living in the city. You’re trying to make friends and you make friends by going out to eat with them, and then you get lazy because your time between classes is short, so you eat out instead of cooking.”

Kenny Silver ran out of GWorld money in the first few months of the fall 2021 semester. While he says he’s not concerned because he can use his own money to eat, he’s worried about his friends who are short on food.

“I just know I would not know how to eat properly on the amount of money that they give per day,” Silver says. “One of the reasons I probably ran out is I would often treat my friends to lunch or dinner because I knew that would mean that for the next week, they could buy a little bit more for each of their meals.”

Hunger is a big concern for student athletes like Duncan Campbell. He’s on the triathlon team and says he gave up on finding cheap groceries at Whole Foods and started eating out instead. “It piled up really quickly,” he says. 

Campbell says his parents sent him more money, but he knows a lot of student athletes who keep struggling to eat. “One of my friends on the volleyball team has to hoard food from the dining hall,” he says. “She just takes cheeseburgers like five at a time in her backpack so she can eat them.”

Photo of Western Market by David Brothers

While students will wait at least a year for the complete overhaul of the dining system, there is one addition to Foggy Bottom where they might seek out a variety of meals—Western Market. Located at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, across from the student center, stalls within the new food hall have already opened. Eventually there will be about 15 restaurants spanning Burmese, Italian, Japanese, and American cuisines.

The design stems from Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for D.C., which called for western, eastern, and central markets. It will also host events like live music, movie nights, wine tastings, and yoga.

“Everyone knew that it could be something to really benefit both the GW students and faculty as well as all the business professionals in that area, like the IMF and the World Bank, and also the tourists that come through,” says Western Market marketplace manager Mercedes Cowper. “The motivation behind it was having something where everyone can go to have that sense of community and enjoy different foods from around D.C. without actually having to venture out too far.”

The venue presents a fun opportunity for students, but only those who can afford it. 

Average prices at the restaurants in Western Market are higher than what many students can spend per day with their GWorld allowance. On top of that, the majority of restaurants leaving to make space for the new dining halls, like Sol Mexican Grill, Kin’s Sushi, and GRK Fresh Greek, offer most meals for $10 or less. Comparatively, the average price for many of the vendors at Western Market—including Nim Ali, Capo Italian Deli, and Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls—is closer to $15 per meal.

Even though the majority of the vendors in Western Market accept GWorld, Cowper says the university was not involved in selecting restaurants or controlling the food prices. “If the students don’t want to spend the money for, let’s say, a lobster roll, they can still use their GWorld card and get something from [another restaurant] that would be more reasonable within their budget.” 

“I do think that kids are probably more encouraged to go there, spend money, and a lot of it, because it’s convenient,” Appelbaum says. “And you know, it’s nice food, but I think the school should still obviously have the option to have dining halls. … If there was a dining hall, I’d be able to survive the rest of semester.” 

There will be dining halls eventually. However, some students are concerned about the quality of the food served there. At the existing dining hall, students say meals don’t always live up to expectations. 

“Dining hall [food] kind of sucks,” Campbell says. “It just tastes crappy. They run the same dinner for a long period of time, so you go and it’s like the same thing over and over again.” He says while he’s not happy about the variety of the food, he’s more enthusiastic about being able to eat more. “That’s just how all dining halls are.” 

David Brothers is a sophomore at GWU majoring in international affairs and minoring in journalism.