A handful of students have questioned me lately on something I wrote in an all-student e-mail about recent changes in dining services on campus: Specifically, seeing fewer unhealthy options on campus (ideally, none), and more healthy options. This is what got me into trouble:
“I am committed to healthy food options for students. So is ARAMARK. I would like to see only whole grain options in Mabee Hall (as opposed to processed flour), and I would also like to see less candy in the convenience store. I am on a one-man crusade to remove all white bread from the dining area (two-man crusade if you include President Ahlburg). I think I actually struck a deal with Miguel Ardid, Dining Services Manager, that he could keep serving donuts only if a whole grain alternative is offered. I have told ARAMARK that any cereal that includes primary or pastel colors needs to go.”
Based on recent feedback. Most people agree with me. Some students, though, have respectfully pointed out that it isn’t the place of the University -- or me -- to dictate what we serve (or don't serve) to students. I remember arguing in favor of a cigarette machine in our dorm when I was a smoking college student. My convenience mattered most. Lung disease not withstanding... Anyway, I appreciate having the respectful dialog, so thought I would take my case to the cyber-community. (Weigh in at the poll above right).
Personally, I would find it difficult to argue in favor of crummy food. An American obesity epidemic, food that is manufactured/slaughtered/sprayed/injected, and engineered. Factor in the lifestyle of the college student, and it seems that we have an obligation to do the right thing for our students. Couple that with the Student Affairs strategic plan that features a learning outcome specifically related to health and wellness. It is in our DNA.
What is more, the argument that we should offer students free choice in this matter seems erroneous to me. Trinity University is exemplary, I think, in allowing freedom of expression and thought both inside and outside the classroom. But it isn't a free-for-all in how we manage our operations. Though the law permits it, we don't allow hard liquor in the residence halls because it promotes binge drinking. (I know, not very effective as a deterrent.) We don't sell cigarettes or porn in the bookstore (though students get HBO in their rooms). We "force" students to do things all the time: We design a curriculum and we have a residency requirement, and we have a balcony policy similar to ones off campus, for example. Conversely,we sell and give away condoms in the bookstore and Health Services respectively. We also have a responsible friend (Good Samaritan) policy and offer cab vouchers through Tiger Bucks to make it easier to not drink and drive. These are things you get, when you choose us. We are not values-free. (And I'm not talking "family values.")
One thoughtful student mentioned wanting sweets or white bread and candy once in awhile. I have to admit, I do have a sweet tooth. I ate six cookies last night at the ASR meeting. Long meeting. I strive to eat healthy, but it seems no matter how well I eat in Mabee Hall, I always need a slice of cheese pizza as a chaser. But I wouldn't grab it, if it wasn't there. I wouldn't buy M&Ms either. My wife and I curse each other out whenever the other brings home family-size bags of the M&Ms. But we do have something called free will. We don't have to eat what is served or sitting on the counter. But we also easily fall to temptation. So why tempt? And yes, full disclosure, not only do I love Lucky Charms, but I love the chocolate kind! And my comfort food IS donuts.
So, I envision dining services where students and employees can have whole grain, made-from-scratch, organic, and natural food choices on a daily basis. And people will eat what is served. If we serve soda, and white bread, and sugary cereal, we are actually forcing unhealthy choices. That runs counter to our mission.
As with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, no pun intended. I have framed this as all or nothing, but maybe that is extreme. I suspect that over time, we will see a decline in the unhealthy products and a corresponding growth in healthy options. I can have my way with a healthy menu, I suppose, but one that includes some latitude for those who once in awhile just want their donuts.
Per comments below. Click here to see some of the data that led us to review dining service option.