OpEd

Opinion: Let There be Kitchens!

by contributing writer Justin Dennison.

Holger Ellgaard on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.jpg

Living on-campus, students don’t get an option for their food. Instead, they are required to spend their hard-earned money and purchase a meal plan. These meal plans allow you to eat at the dining hall and give you flex cash that can be used at the Seawolves cafe or within the Bite app. However, there is a big issue with this: the meal plans are expensive, yet they are failing to satisfy and provide a healthy diet for every student because the dining hall doesn’t offer a variety of foods, doesn’t prioritize the health of students, and makes it extremely hard for students with food allergies to get enough to eat. In the first few weeks of school, the food was great, and I was eating 3 meals a day. With the year progressing, a lot of these good things have been changing for the worse and new issues have been arising. So, let me ask you this: why doesn’t the school allow students to have access to a kitchen? Some students including myself think it could be worth it to make our meals instead of purchasing the pricey meal plans. Doing this would allow students to follow a healthy diet, make sure they get enough to eat, and improve the mental and physical health of all students.

The dining hall doesn’t do enough for students who have food allergies or are intolerant to certain foods. They offer food in an area called “my zone” where all the choices are peanut and gluten-free, however “my zone” has almost the same choices every day and only focuses on those two things. This creates a big issue for students like me who may be food insecure and rely on the dining hall for each meal. I have IBS, which is a chronic medical condition. IBS makes my stomach extremely sensitive to certain foods/ingredients. 

When I try to eat at the dining hall, I often can’t find enough food that doesn’t make me feel super sick. Because of this, I have been unable to fulfill a healthy diet and have been dealing with a lot of repercussions as a result. I have been losing a massive amount of weight, been almost starving at times, and avoid the dining hall a lot. This is super upsetting because the meal plans aren’t cheap. A lot of students, including myself, think that with the price of the meal plans they would be better off purchasing their groceries. Doing this would allow students to choose what they are eating, when they are eating, and it teaches skills that are necessary for the rest of their lives. 

Diet is one of the most important factors in both your mental and physical health. It’s very important to follow a healthy and nutritious diet to feel 100%. The dining hall has a very small variety of foods that they offer. This creates an issue for many students who have been unable to get enough to eat because of food allergies or maybe just picky. By giving students the ability to oversee their cooking we could get rid of this issue completely. There has been an increasing number of studies related to the links between mental health and a healthy diet: “Limited access to nutritious foods can precipitate poor health behaviors and increased risks of chronic disease over time.” said Monique Tello, who is a physician and a writer. This means that the food that you put into your body has a massive impact on both your mental and physical health. This is very bad, because with the food offered in the dining hall, it is almost impossible to follow a healthy diet that gets your body all the nutrients it needs. With access to a kitchen, students would be able to cook food the way they like it, and at the times they want it. As a result, it would be much easier for students to make sure they are getting enough to eat every day. This would be a great thing for many students who have felt the effects of a poor diet, which can affect sleep quality, anthropometry (weight, height, and waist circumference), stress, and worst of all academic performance.

The dining hall brings a buffet-style eating experience for the students. In the dining hall, you are allowed to “eat until you are full” and each item of food is separated and labeled. Doing this gives students the power to choose what they are eating, However, I think it does something bad as a result. The transition phase from home living to dorm living is a major part of a person’s life, it’s where you learn to become independent and your own person! Because of this, you are responsible for making sure you get enough to eat and take care of yourself. It’s no secret that teenagers prefer “junk food” over healthy food, because of the buffet-style set up at the dining hall students aren’t required to follow certain rules like 1 entrée, 1 side, 1 fruit/vegetable. This means that many students may not be following a healthy diet when living on campus. I see people who get loads of one item like fries, pizza, or cookies and then just eat it for a meal. This is horrible for both the mental and physical health of those people; what we eat has such an impact on our quality of life. By allowing students access to a kitchen where they could cook their meals, we could eradicate this issue. There have been numerous studies done on the eating habits of college students, and what many of those studies found is that students are much more likely to make healthy choices in their cooking, than they are to eat a “healthy item” offered by the school.

Giving students access to a kitchen where they can cook and try new recipes that they can enjoy would vastly improve the mental and even the physical health of all students on campus. Students wouldn’t have to worry about eating the same thing every day, could try new foods and could learn how to manage their money while grocery shopping. Giving college students the necessary skills and tools to create a healthy diet empowers them to make better food choices throughout their life, which in return would set them up for a happy life. It’s hard enough to deal with the stress and anxiety that school creates on its own. Having limited food options, an unhealthy diet, and no ability to cook your food hurts your mental health. Food has a strong impact on our health and happiness. When students can’t get enough to eat, it can create food insecurity and food-insecure students have a much higher risk of health implications and academic issues, the effects of which may impact student health and happiness well beyond their college years.

Sources:

El Zein, Aseel, et al. “Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity among U.S. College Students: A Multi-Institutional Study.” BMC Public Health, BioMed Central, 29 May 2019, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6. 

Monique Tello, MD. “Diet and Depression.” Harvard Health, 29 Jan. 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/diet-and-depression-2018022213309. 

Sogari, Giovanni, et al. “College Students and Eating Habits: A Study Using an Ecological Model for Healthy Behavior.” Nutrients, MDPI, 23 Nov. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315356/. 

Students’ Access to Food Still a Problem on College Campuses, Study Shows, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/04/04/students-access-food-still-problem-college-campuses-study-shows. 

Categories: OpEd

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1 reply »

  1. Startling! I don’t eat there, but I know that Sodexo is the provider for many, MANY Maine colleges. I wonder if we all (colleges) get the same plan…? Worth investigating.

    Like

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