This week, my post will be about starving college students. When I say “starving college student”, the images that come to my mind are a 19-year-old sitting in their dorm room at 2 am eating ramen noodles and secondarily, a student coming home, hunched over 3 plates of a home cooked dinner as if they hadn’t eaten in years. Don’t get me wrong, I know that in college, people are at the perfect age where they are still developing and need a lot of calories to get through the day. I am also aware that people at this age are more likely active than some other age groups by playing sports, working out frequently, walking to classes all over campus, etc. However, it is evident that these are not the only factors that have created the modern day starving college student. Maybe the primary reason that college students are starving is because that’s exactly what they are – starving; lacking the nutrient needs for their bodies to maintain normal standings and complete daily activities.
During the independent study I conducted the second semester of my senior year, I discussed the required meal plan. I highly recommend reading the post I did on this earlier in the year although, it does not fully encompass my research and understanding of this process. Now, after actually experiencing the required meal plan, my frustration and disagreement with this policy have grown even further. First of all, as I have mentioned in past posts, summoning the motivation to walk to the dining hall for meals is a much more difficult task than it seems. Advertised as a grand meeting place where students can meet and interact with new people from their university, the dining halls have the illusion of being some magnetic pull for which students are drawn and social interaction happens. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, if students have friends they will find a place to spend time together. It doesn’t have to happen at the dining halls. Further, it is likely that students don’t have people with them on all occasions for which they wander into the dining halls, consequentially students regularly do not have this social aspect, they are simply grabbing a quick meal between classes or for dinner before going to another activity. If students want to eat together they will. They do not need a meal plan to do this. There are other options.
I’ve found myself feeling hungry all of the time here but I feel like I eat all of the time. This sounds like a paradox. Eating but still being constantly hungry no matter how much is ingested. I walk a lot, have started working out, and am obviously a growing teenager, but this is ridiculous. The only reasonable explanation is that the food I’m consuming does not meet my needed nutrient levels. Otherwise, my body would not be telling me I need more. I have also noticed a trend in my diet towards fat, salt, and sugar (a topic for an upcoming post) which has caused me to eat more foods that do not fulfill my nutrient needs.
Going to Center Court, it is easy to pick up a piece of pizza, a fried chicken sandwich, French fries, chocolate milk, and ice cream on the way out. I am a person that loves steamed veggies, grilled chicken, fruit, etc. but when I came here, the options labeled as such (if they are even available) are less than subpar. The veggies are obviously cut up then frozen, cooked in butter and water and thrown on a plate. They taste interesting to say the least and all of the nutrient density of the veggies have been thrown away as they’ve been cooked in butter and soaked with water washing out the flavor and substance of the vegetables. The meat (as analyzed in a previous post, is sketchy), and the fruit has already been discussed in this preceding blog. As for the easy gravitated to items, French fries, chocolate milk, and ice cream, the issue is that they are okay in moderation but when they are the top picks for meals, students are just consuming tons of fat, sodium, and refined sugars. It is extremely difficult to eat with the meal plan and not make those bad choices and after being hooked on the fat, sodium, and sugars, in-dorm snacks tend to follow the same pattern causing students (including me) to devour countless calories with excess fat, sodium, and sugar without meeting the needed nutrient levels for which the hunger would stop. I gained four pounds in the first four weeks of school trying to eat healthy; I’m simply not getting the fruits, vegetables, protein, etc. that I need even though I’m eating constantly.
Another important aspect is cost. Most colleges require a meal plan for 1st year students. At the University of Cincinnati, it costs ~$4,406. A required $4,406 cost for food. For essentially 30 weeks of school/eight-nine months in the residence halls. Essentially $518 per month. That also means students are paying for the food they could have eaten when they were there; if students leave for a weekend or go somewhere else to eat, they are still paying these high prices.
The USDA does frequent periodic reports titled “Official USDA Food Plans” that list the costs of food for individuals and families within different spending plans. In the July 2016 report, the monthly expenditure of a male individual at 14-18 years* on a low-cost plan was $240.40/month, a moderate-cost plan, $306.60/month, a female individual at 14-18 years on a low cost plan, $203.70/month, and a moderate cost plan just about $40 above at $247.50/month (USDA Food Plans). The highest estimated spender spends over $200 less than what the required meal plan costs per month for a freshman student. $200. How can we keep ignoring the fact that on top of demanding that students pay a low of $10,964 for housing a year, they are also paying over $500 a month for dining hall food? Students are not only starving because of their lack of nutrients, they’re also starving because they’re paying over $6,558/year for housing, over $500/month for groceries (over $4,400/year), and $11,000/year for tuition.
I know this post was unquestionably dense and lengthy so if you have gotten to my conclusion, thank you for continuing through this. I try to summarize my points and information since blogs are typically more condensed information but with topics as large and important as improving college dining, it takes more than a few words to tell the story. As always, comments, questions, suggested topics for future blogs are always welcome and I look forward to the next adventure that awaits my journey.
UPDATED: I accidentally listed the price of housing and a meal plan combined instead of just the housing cost. The number is now fixed.
*I chose the 14-18 year age range because the meal plan is only required for first years and the typical age of an incoming college first year is 18. Additionally, the 19-50 year old expenditure was extremely similar to the 14-18.
I have attached these as links in addition to the citations even though links are no longer required by the MLA standards so that you as the reader are able to easily access the information I have sourced in this post for your own further investigations.
N.a. “2016-2017 Housing and Meal Plan Rates.” University of Cincinnati. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 September 2016. https://www.uc.edu/housing/rates.html
“USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food report for JULY 2016.” USDA: Center for Nutritional Policy and Promotion. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 September 2016. https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood