College can be a stressful time for students, especially when it comes to studying and keeping up good grades.
One of the biggest factors that comes into play when doing schoolwork is maintaining a steady and proper diet. Unfortunately, for many students who are on their own for the first time, finances are tight which makes eating healthily a challenge.
According to a study conducted by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 36 percent of college students nationwide are experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined as the lack of reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. Although starving oneself in college is often romanticized, or even celebrated, the issue is a borderline crisis; “freshman 15” be damned.
While student hunger isn’t typically seen as a crisis, serious ramifications can stem from being malnourished as a young adult. Not only do students under perform when their diet suffers, they also run the risk of developing anxiety and a number of other mental health issues.
To combat this, many colleges and universities require those moving into dorms to purchase meal plans for on-campus eating. This ensures students have some level of nutrition over the course of the semester/year. At Utah State University Eastern, the dining hall (or the “Caf”, as it is more intimately known) serves as a grazing ground for the hungry masses.
The food services at USUE are constantly changing, with new menu items and dining options reshaping the Caf on an almost semester-by-semester basis. This trend works two-fold, as new additions such as the Aggie Grill and recently instituted “all-you-can-eat” feature add variety to the food selection, which also affects the quality of the food being served.
Emily Bradley, director of campus events and dining services at USUE, takes strides in ensuring students are getting the best experience at the Caf. However, as she notes, some concessions have to be made in order to keep up with demand. “When we offered “made-to-order” [meals], the costs were higher…and portion sizes were smaller. Now that we are doing “all-you-can-eat,” portion sizes don’t matter as much.”
“However, we had to sacrifice quality and variety for the all-you-can-eat.”
While no one expects gourmet food from a college, many have varying opinions regarding the offerings from which they can choose. In an online survey conducted on the topic, 65 USUE students voiced their concerns and gave feedback regarding the changes they would like to see implemented at the Caf.
The nine-question survey found that of the 65 students, 17 percent said that they ate on campus more than seven times a week, with only 6 percent regularly eating three times a day. Lunch was overwhelmingly the meal of choice, with 50 people citing that as the reason they went to the Caf.
The overall consensus was positive about the food quality, with nearly 71 percent of people giving “fair” to “very good” marks. However, those responses were spread over three categories and there were about as many “poor” votes (19) as there were “good” (18).
Food preparation was also a topic covered on the survey, with questions asking participants to divulge if they had ever received any meals that were subpar. Of the 65 students, 65 percent said that they had received cold food in the past, 62 percent had received overcooked food and 52 percent recalled receiving undercooked food.
It is worth noting that the Caf generally hires students, with over 25 students running dining services completely. While it isn’t uncommon for universities to hire students as cooks, the turnover rate is higher at USUE with the typical worker being employed for only two semesters.
Finally, the students were asked to leave further remarks or suggestions for additions to the Caf’s menu. Among the comments, many brought up the need for more “healthy options,” along with more options in general. Aside from specific requests for dishes or sides, many called for the extension of hours to certain stations such as the deli and bringing back the Bento bar.
While Bradley wasn’t able to directly respond to the survey results, she did speak to some of the issues that arose as a result. “We have tried a few different things to try and figure out what is best for the community. Unfortunately, each semester brings new students who have different views of what dining services should be.”
She expressed a desire to hear from students who are unhappy with the Caf directly. “…we get [complaints] secondhand and two or three days after the fact, which does not allow us to address the issues immediately. We do the very best we can with the budget, the manpower and constantly juggling the needs of the students.”
It remains to be seen how the Caf plans to address the students’ concerns, or whether they intend to go through another overhaul in the process. What is known, however, is that Bradley and the dining services department plan to keep people on their toes. As Bradley put it, when asked about plans, “Change! That is the only plan we can work towards.”
For the next installment of this series, the Eagle Newspaper will explore the dining services’ budget and see what all goes into the process of providing students with the most cost-effective, palate-pleasing menu.
Kalli Prendergast and Jessica Froehlich contributed to this story.