4 September 2017 – Syllabus Week

As most colleges are back in session, I wanted to do my own “syllabus week”. In other words, as I begin a new series for my blog, I would like to present some information that will prepare you, as readers, for the upcoming posts as well as start in on my research so far. Last year, I lived in a dorm and had a college meal plan like 90% of other freshman, and I wrote about how to survive with the required meal plan. This year, I am in an apartment and aim to record my experience of life without a meal plan. My formatting will fluctuate and evolve as I develop presentation works best. However, I will be attempting to consistently cover my grocery trips, money saving tips, my meal plans, and the cost of all of it. Finally, I have included a couple of take away points from my first weeks in my apartment to begin the year.

 

Plan, plan, plan

Although the types of planning can be different for each person, planning out grocery lists and meals are an extremely important part of feeding oneself and staying on a budget. Every week, I sit down once (or in split up times over the span of a couple days), coming up with a couple of recipes, meals for the week, and a consequent grocery list that includes everything I will need for the week.

 

Use a calculator

The first time I went to the grocery after moving into my apartment, I went thirty dollars over budget. I knew the first trip would be a bit more expensive than the normal budget because I needed to buy some long-lasting items like potatoes, onions, olive oil, etc. However, when I saw the total adding up at the register, it became very stressful. After that time, I used my phone as I walked around the store to calculate how much money I was spending so that I wasn’t going over budget.

 

Rewards

Although sometimes, rewards cards are not worth it, in a grocery store, they are. Kroger is the most popular grocery store in Cincinnati and before moving in, I signed up for a rewards card. A Kroger card also allows customers to get the instore discounts/sales, use the Kroger app to create grocery lists, look at the weekly ad, and while in the store, check off the items as they are put in the shopping cart. An app like this is tremendously helpful in sticking to a budget and planning. Users are able to see accurate pricing for their location, add each item to their list and (hopefully) only buy what was planned on, and also plan around sales and specials.

 

Don’t buy what you won’t eat

In an attempt to make better food choices or because people think they will eat more than they actually will, customers frequently purchase food that they will not actually consume which turns into food waste at the end of the week. Obviously, the ultimate goal of each person should be to eat healthier foods and enough of them, however, it is better to be reasonable and not waste money on foods that will be thrown away. For example, if you hate broccoli but want to eat healthier, buy another type of vegetable that you enjoy or at least will eat.

 

Concluding

For the next blog post, I will be presenting a couple meals that I prepared during the week as well as addressing and discussing the costs. Make sure to check out my @eatingcollege Instagram to see more!

13 February 2017 – Food Waste

When we think about wasting food, I feel that most people reading this blog, including myself as I write it, have the privilege of being able to say that we waste food and don’t think about it for more than five seconds in the moment, if that. Maybe in the long run, we feel the underlying guilt that comes from knowing that there are countless people that have less than we do. “Eat your food, there are kids starving in Africa” – a common phrase among parents and in conversations for which people (mainly children) are told to not waste food. Even used as a joke, this phrase illustrates our privilege and lack of recognition of the world around us; we are ignorant to the fact that hunger is not just all the way across the world, it is in our school, our workplace, our neighborhood, our church, our city, etc. As written on Nourish the Planet, “about one in every six Americans suffer from food insecurity” (NTP Staff). Hunger surrounds us and every piece of food we eat and every piece we waste, is a piece of food that another person in our community is not receiving. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “more than 37 million tons of food waste was generated in 2013 alone” (Food Waste).

College campuses are notorious for food waste. There are thousands of students that frequent the dining halls and consequently, numerous pounds of food are wasted each day. UC’s dining locations differ from a buffet style option at Centercourt, Marketpointe, and Stadium View Café, to packaged sandwiches, salads, and sides with chips, fruit, and drinks at Catskeller, DAAP, Teachers and the Rec Center Café. Each with their own food waste issues I intend to address in this post. However, one positive aspect that UC dining services does is tray-less dining; “a study at Loyola University Chicago found that a combination of getting rid of trays and reducing plate sizes makes about 25 percent reduction in food waste” (When Food is Too Good). Although I am unsure if UC reduced plate sizes, there are no trays in the dining halls and according to the study done at Loyola, not having trays causes a significant food waste reduction.

Not having trays is helpful in reducing food waste, however, part of the problem is still the manner in which the food is served. For example, Centercourt is the most frequented dining hall on campus by far. All buffet style all the time. Open from 7 am to midnight every day, this buffet style hall has countless students in and out of the doors each day. One of the negatives of Centercourt within the world of food waste is that some of the food tastes much different than students originally anticipated or are heavily oiled or seasoned and therefore many people decide to get something different or not eat at all. I am guilty of this. It is hard to not waste food when you aren’t choosing it and don’t know the seasoning, sauces, or sources of the foods. Even if I am aware of how bad it is to waste food, that others have much less than me, and that my parents are paying a lot for the food I am getting at the dining hall, I still end up wasting more food than I should.

No dining hall can accommodate for each individual person’s needs and although UC and many other universities give the illusion of adaptability and accommodation for meal plan holders, there will always be unhappiness and unsatisfactory options. Further, because students cannot choose every aspect of their meal and plates are dished out for students, students may only want or may only be able to consume (due to dietary restrictions or intolerances – more on this in a future blog) one part of the dish handed to them and because its already on the plate, the food is simply wasted. When that student cooks for themselves, they will not make the item they cannot eat or do not like and thusly will not waste that product. The waste is not always up to preference and limiting of the dish options though, part of the problem is quick eating and dashing and not being able to save food; if students come in between classes and grab a quick bite, they may only want part of the dish but they can’t step over to the fridge in their kitchen and save it for later; that food automatically goes into the trash. Since the meal plan is a freshman’s main source of food, they don’t have the option to always save their food even though we (as college students) should unquestionably be attempting to waste food as little as possible.

Marketpointe, the second large all-you-can-eat buffet style dining option, is less frequented and is only open 7 am to 9 pm Monday – Thursdays and 7 am – 2 pm on Fridays. Running a bit different than Centercourt, Marketpointe prides itself on composting the food waste which was initially one aspect that drew me to Marketpointe instead of Centercourt. The repurposing of the food waste, despite there still being food uneaten, makes the guilt of the waste feel just a little bit better. Further, the food waste at Marketpointe seems to be less than Centercourt for whatever reason as I’ve noticed while putting my plate in the dish section, most dishes have smaller amounts of food and the area seems to be cleaner and less cluttered in general. I am partially unsure what makes a difference between the two locations but I think two explanations are the location and health quality difference between the two halls as Marketpointe is a further walk and students go out of their way to eat there for a specific purpose and thusly appreciate each choice and Marketpointe has typically healthier options and even if the ratio between the healthy food options at Centercourt and Marketpointe was about the same, the healthier options are more accessible and presented to the visitors in Marketpointe while in Centercourt the fried food, pizza, and ice cream machine are front and center.

As for the other food locations where students can exchange a meal swipe for lunch to get a sandwich, or salad with fruit or chips and a drink, the waste seems more to come from the packaging than the actual food. Sandwiches and salads are in plastic containers and come with fruit in cups (plastic) or whole form or chips (more packaging) and a drink (more plastic). Not to mention the plastic forks, knives, and spoons along with the dressing packages for salad and the plastic bags to take the food out. Part of the problem with food waste is that not only do we waste food that is in perfect edible condition, we wrap our turkey sandwiches and strawberry feta salads with cantaloupe and water or soda in plastic containers which probably won’t end up in the recycling bin and shouldn’t have been molded anyways. We have conditioned ourselves to believe that eating everything out of and with plastic is okay. Not to mention the food we leave behind in those packages and throw in the trash. Even if the containers were biodegradable, the plastic bags, plastic silverware, and trash bag containing this meal, are not.

The problem with food waste is not necessarily that we have it; there is no way that with seven billion people on earth every ounce of food will be consumed. The problem is rather that we have too much when there are so many starving and impoverished people in the world and we have institutions that create countless opportunities and encourage the behavior. This is not to say that the people within these institutions such as university students are not at fault because the individuals, like myself, who choose to throw a whole plate of food away are clearly a part of the problem. But my point is that we are the issue. Whether it’s the university student who consumes the food, the dining services who make the food, or the country who accepts the use of excessive packaging and improperly disposing of it, we are all at fault. In other countries, extra food, expired but perfectly good food, or slightly damaged items are given to soup kitchens where as in the United States, it is not allowed and the food goes straight into the trash. Some countries have even banned plastic containers and are much stricter on enforcing the importance of recycling and environmental protection. This post was not meant to guilt trip the reader or say that we’re all terrible for throwing away a tomato or using plastic. But instead my reason for writing is to point out the flaws in the college dining system and identify a problem that our society has. We must work towards implementing new structures upon which we can help the hungry, prevent excessive food waste, protect the environment, and encourage a more symbiotic relationship between people and the earth.

 

Works Cited

NTP Staff. “Hunger in the USA – A Silent Crisis.” Nourish The Planet, nourishtheplanet.com/2014/06/hunger-in-the-usa-a-silent-crisis/.

“Food Waste in the United States.” The Campus Kitchens Project Food Waste Comments, http://www.campuskitchens.org/food-waste/.

“When Food Is Too Good To Waste, College Kids Pick Up The Scraps.” NPR, NPR, 27 Feb. 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/02/27/389284061/when-food-is-too-good-to-waste-college-kids-pick-up-the-scraps.

 

 

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New Year’s Resolutions – 1 January 2017

New Years is a time that people celebrate the upcoming new year and further, new goals; a new start and a list to prove it. We put an extraordinary amount of pressure on the impending due date to which January 1st represents. People vow to complete enormous life changes, some of the most popular being “I will eat healthier, get in shape, quit smoking, watch less tv, read more, etc.” The problem with these ambitious goals is that not only are they vague, they cannot be changed overnight. The common new year’s resolutions are respectable goals and promote positive life changes but if one’s ambition is to truly make a change, the goals must be restructured.

The whole idea of new year’s resolutions is more of a placebo than a real solution to bad habits. We willingly promise to complete these tasks although many of us know we will not actually follow through. The problem is not the bad habits; the problem is the path to which we work to fix the bad habits. In the hopes to help with this dilemma, I wrote a couple of rules that might help you as readers make more informed new year’s resolutions, and in turn, actually complete your goals.

 

Don’t cut out the bad food – add the good food in

It seems an essential part of the Standard American Diet (otherwise known as SAD) to focus on the negative. Eating well is not just cutting out bad foods, it is adding in good foods. United States citizens have seen many different dieting trends come and go. The diets focus on cutting out the “bad food” – i.e. fat in the low-fat food trend. People who observed this trend (mainly in the late 90s, early 2000s) put the focal point of their attempt to better their habits on simply cutting out fats. However, cutting out one supposedly bad foods does not create a healthy diet. Further, fats are an essential part of our diet and avoiding a necessary category has the reverse effect of our original intentions. Our diets are about balance and clearly, eating excessive amounts of any food is bad, but so is eating a minimal amount of a nutrient that our bodies need to survive.

 

Lesson: When making a “I’m going to eat healthier” resolution, don’t focus on cutting out “bad” foods, focus on adding in good foods.

 

Try to avoid diet books

From the previous bullet point, I began to discuss the negatives of dieting but the topic requires more discussion. If I were going into dietetics just for money, I think my best bet would be selling diet books. Our nation scoops up new movements in nutrition like candy. I could make up or take one suggestion to the extreme, put it in a book, sell it and probably make a significant amount of money. The dieting trends are purely ludicrous; although some have good intentions and start with a small understanding of one aspect of nutrition, the ideas are blown out of proportion and taken to a whole new level. For example, the Atkin’s diet. If you as a reader have not heard of this path, the basic rules are low carbs, high proteins. However, this approach suggests avoiding a whole category of key ingredients in our diet. Carbohydrates are our body’s first source of energy and when we do not ingest them, we lack essential nutrients and energy to maintain our daily functions. Our country dives head first into nutrition crazes such as the Atkin’s diet. Moreover, these fads do not exclusively come from nutrition professionals; Kim Kardashian, Dr. Phil, Gwyneth Paltrow, and LL Cool J all have diets that people can follow and other than Kardashian, these celebrities have print copy books that are sold in stores and online. We cannot look to celebrities as a source of our dieting choices and yet this is a perfect example of our nation’s desperate grasp on any presumed “miracle” answer to fixing bad eating habits.

 

Lesson: Don’t buy LL Cool J’s diet book and follow whatever he says. If you need to change your eating habits, look to a professional and avoid dieting books.

 

Set a reasonable time frame for change

Even if you have been eating fast food for every meal the past five years and you know you need to change your eating habits, it cannot be expected that the needed changes will occur overnight. Many people set themselves up for failure when the deadline for a complete diet change is set for example, telling oneself that one will eat healthy as soon as the New Year’s ball drops is demanding and is unlikely to occur in one night’s time. It is okay to take time and develop good habits. The best changes occur over time and if true change is desired, one must take the time to develop the new routine.

 

Lesson: Take time to learn how to eat better and develop better habits – it takes 21 days to develop a habit so don’t expect change overnight.

 

Read Food Rules by Michael Pollan

I have probably mentioned this book and its importance before, however reiterating its importance is essential. Just read it. It is about 64 rules, is a quick read, and may help guide you in your eating endeavors. Plus it’s only $8.98 in paperback on Amazon.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Food-Rules-Eaters-Michael-Pollan/dp/014311638X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Lesson: Read Food Rules.

 

In conclusion, new year’s resolutions are what you make of them. We promise to complete large tasks overnight with good intentions, but need a new pathway to complete these future accomplishments. One of the most popular promises is to eat healthy after January 1st. This attempt at better eating habits is daunting without guidance however essential the change may be. Making a change in our eating habits effects our future. We are not just eating for today, we are eating for next week, next year, and 20 years from now. If we eat well, we live well. It may be the most important focus we can have for our future. So when we are attempting to change for the better, we must remember that individual deliberate decisions create change – promising change does not; we must pivot our focal point to adding in the good, setting a reasonable time frame for change, and finding the top people and resources to follow. Consequently, if we work on changing to have better eating habits, we will see the results and possibly actually complete a new year’s resolution. Happy New Year and I wish you the best of luck on completing your new year’s resolutions or at least having a wonderful year.

1 November 2016 – Sugar

In the hopes of beginning this post, I wanted to explain my lengthy absence. Keeping up with everything here is a daunting task. From clubs and volunteering to homework and studying as well as sleeping and eating, etc. working on the other tasks I’m invested in can be a difficult task. Further, during my fall break, I was sick and did not feel up to work for days. My point is not to complain and give countless excuses for not posting, but to illustrate my evolution with my experience in my first semester of college. I feel as if I have developed a better hold on my time management as well as working on integrating the goals that I had set for myself before coming here. If as a reader you are heading towards college or know someone who is next fall or within a couple years, know that you are nowhere near alone.

I thought it was appropriate timing for this topic as Halloween was this Monday. I’ve never been a huge sugar person and I wouldn’t usually eat rich desserts except for the occasional splurge. However, since I have been living in Cincinnati, I have been handed free candy at information fairs for volunteering, clubs, study abroad opportunities, etc. Being, every single day, able to access an ice cream machine, sugar cereals, chocolate milk, and other desserts in the dining hall along with other sources, it has become frightfully easy to ingest excessive sugar. I find myself craving candy bars, cupcakes, ice cream, chocolate – basically anything to get my sugar fix. It’s almost as if my body has developed a dependency on the regular, and lavish, intake of sugar.

To quote from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Michael Jacobson, the co-founder and executive director of the CSPI stated, “sugar consumption has been going through the roof. It has increased by 28 percent since 1983, [as of 1999] fueling soaring obesity rates and other health problems. It’s vital that the FDA require labels that would enable consumers to monitor—and reduce—their sugar intake” (Cronin). Although this quote is from an article posted in 1999, the point remains the same; sugar intake has become not only an issue for our current health and happiness, but our future. In fact, over the top sugar consumption has become such an issue that the new 2015-2020 government dietary recommendations include recommendations and warnings that cover sugar intake.

It is quite dismaying that I feel a physical and mental draw to sugar. I know how bad it is and how much I don’t want the consequences of excessive sugar consumption can have and yet I still grab an ice cream cone on my way out of the dining hall or a glass of chocolate milk that has over 20 grams of sugar per cup. I believe that the main issue that is causing my skyrocket in sugar intake is the availability. Sugar is everywhere on college campuses and it’s difficult to avoid. Especially when required to spend two semesters worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the dining halls, it is nearly impossible to avoid sugar. This brings up yet another issue with the required meal plan for freshmen, although exposure to excessive sugar does not only lie in the dining halls on campus and stem highly from the USA’s food culture in general, most people do not have unlimited sugar cereal, baked dessert, soft serve ice cream machine, chocolate milk dispenser access while at home. If students were not on the meal plan, of course they would still purchase sugar filled sodas, cereals, desserts, and other foods at the grocery but it would not be on the same scale as an all-you-can-eat dining hall students walk into three times a day. Further, students who prefer to eat healthy would have an easier time making healthy choices because they would have more control on what they were exposed to as well as what they kept in their kitchen.

According to the Obesity Society, “[there has been] an increase in added sugars consumed by American adults by more than 30% (228 calories per day in 1977 to 300 calories in 2009-2010). During that same time period, calories from added sugars consumed by children increased by approximately 20% (277 to 329 calories per day)” (Turner). A 30% increase in three decades. Thirty percent. Thirty percent in less than three decades and if we continue with this pattern, the health problems suggested by excessive sugar intake – increased risk for cancer, damages the liver, causes weight gain and leads to obesity, as well as endless other risks – will become more and more prevalent and an even larger problem than they already are if that is even possible.

In conclusion, I encourage you as citizens to check the labels on your food the next time you pick up a snack or a meal and identify the sugar levels in them – this may shock you. Pay attention to how many times a day you crave sugar and how many times you listen to that craving. Attempt to research more information and recognize the ads that are for products that are filled with sugar. Be aware and get involved in the discussion.

 

Works Cited

Cronin, Jeff. “America: Drowning in Sugar.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI, 3 Aug. 1999. Web. 1 November 2016. < https://cspinet.org/new/sugar.html>.

Turner, Mollie. “U.S. Adult Consumption of Added Sugars Increased by More Than 30% Over Three Decades.” The Obesity Society. The Obesity Society, 3 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. < http://www.obesity.org/news/press-releases/us-adult>.

“Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 8th Edition.” 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. ODPHP, n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2016. <https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/>.

 

 

27 September 2016 – Starving

 

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

11 September 2016 – The Struggle

Although my post for this week does not cover as many subjects as the last post, the topics are essential to the discussion of the college dining experience. The last couple weeks have honestly been pretty challenging. Being away from home, managing a college schedule for the first time, and attempting to eat healthy (at least healthyish) in combination created a whirlwind of stress and consequent issues. Out of this stress and time passing, I have summarized various observations upon which this post will be centered including, leaving the dorm to eat, better options, better choices, and snacking.

 

Better Options, Better Choices

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had with dining since I got here is that the main place to eat on campus (CenterCourt)’s options are, for the majority, unhealthier options than other places. The main attractions of the dining center include the Brickyard section which features pizza, pasta, and dessert like jello, pudding, cake, and cookies, the Gridiron section which features dishes such as crispy fish and chicken sandwiches as well as fries and toppings, and finally, the ice cream machine which is on the path out of the dining hall. Don’t get me wrong, CenterCourt does have some decent meals such as the Mongolian Grill section which allows students to create custom stir-fry dishes, the typical salad bar and the occasional enjoyable dish in the various other sections. However, the issue is that the focus is on the more negative health quality sections and the healthier options are minimal in comparison.

CenterCourt is probably the most frequented dining court because it is in the center of campus but the highest regarded dining hall is Marketpointe. The first time I visited the hall this semester, one of the workers described it to me as, “pretty much the same thing as CenterCourt except not as much of a dungeon” (this description is because of the lighting difference between the two). Everyone seems to know that Marketpointe is better than CenterCourt and although it shares some of the same options as CenterCourt, the focus is not on the unhealthy foods, there are better options overall, and I found myself making healthier choices and was happier with my dining experience. The main attractions include the salad bar, custom wrap/sandwich bar, the omlete section, and the stir-fry bar. Going here, makes me want to eat although ultimately, I would prefer to make my own food in my dorm.

Leaving the Dorm to Eat

One of the arguments that colleges utilize to support their requirement of the meal plan for first year students is the social aspect. From the almost four weeks that I have been on UC’s campus, I have seen that the dining courts can very well be a place of social interaction and convenient meeting place, but I’ve also seen that if students have friends they will find a place to spend time together. Especially on college campuses, there are so many avenues through which people can spend time together especially with the access to he venue could be changed quite easily and still allow students to eat and socialize. For example, as I suggested in my independent study, communal kitchens instead of dining halls would provide students the social aspect incorporated with eating eliminating the need for the meal plan requirement. Further, many dorms already have built in kitchens or communal cooking spaces available for this option so for at least one aspect, there doesn’t need to be a huge overhaul for cooking spaces. I will continue this discussion in a separate post.

On a different note and connecting to the snacking subhead of this post, although it is argued that socially, the dining halls are the best options for students, a lot of times I have noticed that it is difficult to motivate oneself to walk to the dining courts to eat. Not every meal is full of friends and laughter and socialization as some might hope. In fact, college is a time of individual exploration. Many meals and activities are done solo and independently students must decide when to eat every one of their meals. No college student has their parents telling them to eat breakfast, or a lunch period in the cafeteria with all of their classmates (even though I didn’t have this in high school I had a set time for lunch), or even a family dinner in which everyone sat down at one table to eat. This along with the distance to the dining hall and back causes students to question if it’s worth it to go to the dining hall and eat a meal and frequently, it doesn’t seem like its worth it. This means staying in the dorm eating the readily available snack foods.

 

Snacking

The last section began to touch on this subject but snacking habits is definitely something worth noting through my experience on campus so far. I have many times determined that walking to CenterCourt is not worth it and Marketpointe too far away to even consider. This means chips, cheeze-its, ramen noodles, candy, ice cream, you name it. For the most part, when students buy snacks it means these items and when they’ve walked all day around to classes and finally want to come back to their dorm and not worry about walking back to the dining hall, these snacks come out to play. A horrible habit obviously, but when food all around is disappointing, expensive (outside food sources like resturants), or just simply not worth the walk, we gravitate to the empty calorie chemical, sugar, carb, fat filled snacks in hopes to curb our need for nutrients. Evidently, when our body is not receiving the nutrients it needs, it just causes overeating of these same negative snacks with nothing actually being accomplished.

 

My thoughts are a bit scrambled, but I write these posts in the hopes of summarizing my experience with college dining to work towards my ultimate goal of helping people live healthy, happy lives and changing the American food system. I aim to interest those who read this and would appreciate any and all comments given! Thanks for reading!

 

28 August 2016

This is the first blog post I have for the new adventure that is documenting my experience with the college dining services at the University of Cincinnati. I have divided the post into six sections with observations, suggestions, and cultural trends within the dining experience that I have determined so far. I intend on posting every week or every other week updating my experience with more observations, suggestions, and cultural trends in the hopes to continue my research and aim of improving and changing the college dining culture and the options for students it provides.

 

The Meat is Sketchy

If you know anything about typical college dining and the mass buffets that ensue, it’s safe to say that you probably know the meat is sketchy. In hopes to define “sketchy”, imagine a bunch of fried chicken patties in a dish for serving in a dining hall. Each shaped exactly in the same way, about the same thickness and weight. Does chicken come normally in triangle shapes and from a freezer? This is the image to recall when understanding what I mean by the meat being sketchy in mass quantity dining centers. Although this is a shortened version of the experience many have with the meat in buffet style dining centers, it is an important point. I hope to, this year and in future years, illustrate my experience with the college dining services at UC as an example of our college dining culture as a society and the further expand upon ways in which we can start to improve the choices we make in regards to this service.

 

Gum is Scary

Although this does not specifically come out of my dining experience at UC, when you are a student (at any age in which you are concerned about the freshness of your breath), gum or mints become essential. As for a college student’s experience, many times going to the dining hall happens between classes, with friends, and/or before another meeting, or social event. No one wants to go to class, be with friends, go to a meeting or social event with bad breath. This means gum and mints. I happen to be one of these college students who carries gum and mints around in the hopes of preventing these awkward bad breath scenarios. However, if the labels of the gum and mints are read, there are countless forms of sugar, chemicals, and added ingredients that detract from the appeal of fresh breath.

 

Take Fruit with You

Being honest, fruit is not the first thing someone thinks of when they enter a large buffet style dining hall. There are some people that get salads (which, depending on what the university’s dining looks like, could be pretty decent and with a salad bar can be easily tossed together and eaten along with other courses); some people get the cooked veggies in stir-fry or other prepared dishes. But fruit? Fruit has been cut up and put in containers filled with unappetizing, non-labeled juices and a sticky serving spoon or fruit such as apples, oranges, bananas, etc (which contain their own packaging for transport) sitting in a dish. This leaves the consumer (in this case being the college student) avoiding fruit completely because no one wants to eat fruit out of a sticky juice bucket and most people don’t want to sit at the tables at the dining hall trying to cut an orange or apple with a low grade knife. Take the transportable fruit with you. Try to add it into your dorm snack diet and if you can. Cut up bananas and eat the slices with peanut butter. Same goes for apples. Don’t completely avoid fruit. Although the fruit definitely doesn’t come from the best sources – a topic for later – it’s still important to take what you can get. Especially if you are a freshman in college with the required meal plan.

 

Sprinkles Disappear like Crack

Ice cream is my favorite food ever. Shocker I know. If you know me even only if in passing, it’s likely that you are aware of this obsession already. In the setting of my college dining experience I was ecstatic to know that there are soft serve ice cream machines at some of the dining halls at University of Cincinnati. There are cones and toppings including rainbow sprinkles, crushed up oreos, hot fudge, peanuts, etc. What I didn’t know was that the rainbow sprinkles disappear so fast that you almost never get any. These chemical, dye-filled capsules of sugar somehow draw in consumers so rapidly that they can be gone from the container within a span of a couple hours. I, admittedly have fallen prey to this obsession but am not sure why. This is mainly an observation of the dining system in college but I thought it was important to point out because it is a trend in student’s eating habits.

 

Chocolate Milk is a Hot Commodity

Like the trend in sprinkles, chocolate milk is very popular in the dining halls. Many times, students go to the dispenser and realize that the container is empty. I am not surprised by this trend because chocolate milk has always been a popular drink to those around me and in our general culture. However, seeing it in the dining halls is a different experience. I think it is much more likely for students to get chocolate milk along with their meal because it is so easily accessible (if the dispenser is not empty at the time). When I was at home, the entire time growing up we didn’t regularly keep chocolate milk in the house. Now, the appeal for chocolate milk is very high, all I have to do it grab a cup and pour myself however much chocolate milk that I want. Even though I know drinking a full cup of sugar filled chocolate milk is probably not the best to drink all of the time – and I do avoid it and try to only drink it sometimes – it is difficult to turn away from it.

 

It’s OK to Sit Alone

At first, sitting alone feels very isolated but eventually, it feels as if you are just another college student eating a snack or a meal. I think one of the most important cultural aspects of college is that even when you are alone, you aren’t. There are thousands upon thousands of students in the exact situation that you are. And it’s okay to not know what you’re doing or where you’re going or even to have friends going into college. I’m hoping to continue this section as I develop more of an image of what it means to be in college.

 

In summary, the beginning of the college dining experience has been interesting and I think it is important for me to document this as it gives an insight into the dining culture that all the research and discussion could not illustrate fully understand.