Cummings: Campus food leaves healthy eaters wanting


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

While food on campus is convenient and easily accessible, the majority of the options ISU Dining offers to students are unhealthy and do little to help students avoid the dreaded “Freshman 15.”

Kelsey Cummings

One of the worst and perhaps most dreaded aspects of college life is the famed “Freshman 15.” Parents and university alumni alike warn college newcomers of the horrors of the college diet, explaining the Freshman 15 will be one of the first changes you experience as a new student.

The phrase has gained popularity among both those unfortunate enough to have experienced it and the lucky few who have evaded its influence. For most, not even a diligent workout routine can prevent the addition of a couple pounds if eating habits are poor.

But what are we to do? It is part of college, right?

A great number of students cannot afford to buy much more than the cheap, unhealthy foods that most grocery stores make readily available. Even if students can afford it, busy work schedules might not provide enough time for them to prepare a healthy meal. Therefore, students must again resort to unhealthy, prepackaged food for their own convenience.

So it seems that gaining the freshman 15 is inevitable. But what if we could take the concepts of affordability and convenience and use them to our advantage? What if there were places to eat or purchase food right here on campus that were both affordable and convenient?

I believe that the convenience stores and cafes on campus are the solution to this problem. These food stores are scattered all across Iowa State, making them easily accessible from almost any spot on campus. Though some of the food seems overpriced as stand-alone products, the Dining Dollars which come with every meal plan help students living on campus afford these food items without using direct cash.

However, the problem now lies not in the fact that the food on campus isn’t affordable or convenient, but that it is seriously unhealthy. Food items available for purchase at convenience stores mimic those sold at most gas stations: packaged, processed and extremely tasty. Students continue to buy this convenient food because of its familiar and delicious taste, and learn to ignore the negative effects it can have on their bodies.

The food offered at many of the cafes and food shops across campus are, though somewhat better, unhealthy as well. Even a hummus vegetable wrap from the cafe at the Hub will shock you with its 606 calories and 31 grams of fat.

Although these places offer certain healthy side options such as fruit, vegetables, or, on occasion, Greek yogurt, their meal options just aren’t as nutritious and healthy as they could be.

ISU Dining does have its perks, however. Not only does ISU Dining try to make sure most food items are clearly labeled with their nutritional information, they also provide online access to tools such as NetNutrition and a list of tips for how to eat better on campus in order to help students make the wisest choices possible.

But providing information can only go so far. When most students rely on their Dining Dollars and the convenience and affordability of the food on campus, healthier food options need to be more readily available.

Iowa State needs to utilize the slew of health-conscious vending machine companies and add healthier options next to the old vending machines. Lower-calorie and lower-fat items should be a greater priority in the convenience stores and cafes, and an overall push for more natural foods should be seen all across campus.

The wide variety of food on campus is one of the reasons I initially liked Iowa State. Its abundance of food options far surpassed any other university I had visited in surrounding areas. However, what it gains in food diversity, it lacks in proper nutrition.

A little over two-thirds of U.S. adults older than 20 are considered to be overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American College Health Association reports that close to a third of U.S. college students are overweight or obese. Poor nutrition on campuses is a problem, and as a nation trying to focus on reducing these statistics, Iowa State needs to offer healthy meal options as a way to contribute to effort as a whole.

Though it may seem like a small number, 15 pounds can make a huge difference in a person’s overall health and well-being. Perhaps the addition of healthier foods on campus will become a higher priority now that the dreaded Freshman 15 has much more ominous implications.