Weight botchers

The U of C dining halls cannot be trusted to serve up nutrition.

By Alison Howard

The dining halls do a pretty good job of providing nutritional information. That’s how I know that they do a less-than-stellar job of providing nutritional food. As someone who is admittedly not a nutritionist, or even a health nut, I can’t pretend that I know all the right things to eat. What I do know is that a Pierce Philly cheesesteak has 555.67 calories and a third of your recommended salt intake, and a “1/24 cut” of BJ lasagna has 438.98 calories and more than half of your daily fat. Don’t even get me started on Bartlett’s “Chicken Nacho Supreme,” that, at 2,526 calories, simply exceeds what the average person should eat in an entire day. Seriously, Bartlett? I’m disappointed in you.That’s not to say that I’m particularly surprised. When you’re looking at Philly cheesesteaks and lasagnas and Nacho Supremes, you can’t expect to find a very impressive image of health. A college “restaurant” (as they are referred to on the dining services website) is going to have junk food, and it’s up to the diner, rather than the dining hall, to choose what he or she eats, which is why the healthier among us make a beeline for the leafy salads and egg whites, dressing forgone and yolks abandoned. (This is obviously an unrealistic extreme—the yolks are the best part!) I’m sure that there’s a middle ground somewhere between the barbeque tofu and the apple pizza. It’s just that when it comes to actually choosing the middle ground, the options can be surprisingly limiting—if you’re picking between cereal and peanut butter and jelly, you might as well prepare them on your own. Dining halls do have a lot of foolproof foods—those just shouldn’t be all you can eat.That’s why you have to consider the big advantage of the dining halls: convenience. You don’t need to know where to buy cereal if you can just saunter over to Pierce and grab yourself a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch—that is, on the days they have Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And, like most convenient dining venues (McDonald’s, anyone?), the dining halls don’t really have any external pressure to provide truly creative healthy options (although, one could argue that apple pizza is the height of culinary creativity. The employees really do wonders considering what they’re working with—or maybe whom they’re working for). Anyway, people who are not in a position to prepare their own food are generally not in a position to complain about it (not that it stops anybody). The point is, as long as you choose the convenience of the residence halls, you must suffer a meal plan. Except even Burger King pretends to let you “have it your way.” If you ate every meal on the Traditional Freshman plan (based on dividing the bargain price of $5,109 by the 561 meals given a year), you would be paying a little over $9 a meal. This price goes up for every meal you don’t eat—even though every house has its urban legend of that kid who ate every meal that one quarter. For that, a dining hall might as well be a restaurant—and if you consider the $15.06 price tag for a BJ/Pierce dinner paid with cash, it’s an even more expensive one than Burger King. Where does all the money go, then? It doesn’t look like it goes to paying the workers all that well, and it doesn’t seem as though it helps provide all that much variety or healthy options. And the fact that most people on the Traditional Freshman plan don’t use up all of their points means that they might be paying even more than $15 a meal. Maybe things will change next year with the new dining plan—maybe Aramark will learn how to be more cost-effective, to provide healthier options, to incite less hate in the hearts of students everywhere. I can be optimistic, right?Even still, next year’s “all you can eat, all of the time” plan is misleading. If freshmen still end this quarter with 30-plus meals on their plans, it’s unlikely that they’ll be constantly frequenting the dining halls between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. next year—which would be a terrible idea from a nutritional standpoint. (The Freshman 15 would become the Freshman 50.)You can’t eat everything you want, and you can’t trust Aramark to serve you healthy food. Later in life, when we’re living outside of the dorms, and outside of the University bubble, we’ll hopefully prepare meals for ourselves that contain less than 600 mg of sodium a serving. And now, we can either protest furiously, or go grab another bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Alison Howard is a first-year in the College.