Students should seek healthier dining options
When was the last time you had a home-cooked meal? Was it at a parent’s house, a friend’s or did you make it yourself? When you first get to college, the dining halls seem wonderful, but the luster of wing night and cereal buffets wears off eventually, and you start craving control over your own meals. However, any student living in a dorm has several hurdles to overcome if they want to make something as simple as, say, stovetop ramen with some veggies thrown in.
Cooking on your own is a great way to eat healthy, save money and learn to think like an adult, but the modern college student is buffered from these responsibilities by the structure of college housing. Incoming first-year students get placed into dorms, and apartment-style dorms are in short demand for everyone. Even when students do move off-campus, it is not uncommon for them to keep their meal plan.
There is a growing trend of colleges offering as many amenities as possible to prospective students — dining halls that double as food courts, on-campus eateries and convenience stores — that cater to our desire for instant gratification. Livingston campus, which at this point is more of a mall than a school, has become the most coveted campus in the housing lottery. College is supposed to be a time of growth and self-reliance. It is the place where most of us first experience independence and learn life skills. Structuring meals means spending time thinking about the future, planning in advance and keeping the plans you make. All these are valuable skills that students will use their entire lives.
Dining halls promote an opposite set of skills and values. They are more expensive than both cooking and dining out — it’s like having every meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and they also foster a wasteful and ungrateful attitude toward food. The high price per meal can make students feel they need to eat as much as possible or they aren’t getting their money’s worth. On the flipside, many students end up not eating the food they serve themselves and let it go to waste. Eating at a dining hall requires no forethought, no portion control and no restraint.
Rather than paying a premium for meal plans and on-campus eateries, students should seek out living situations that allow them to take care of themselves and learn financial responsibility. However, students who do live in dorms, and have either a lack of experience in cooking or a lack of equipment, should still be able to eat well. A solution to this, created in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences colloquium course “Ethics in Science,” is to create a meal share program for Rutgers students. Not only does it connect students to home-cooked meals, which are almost always healthier than their restaurant counterparts, but it may also help students get to know each other and strengthen the Rutgers community. We were inspired by the concept of time banking, where people exchange their time for services, allowing everyone in the community to both contribute and receive help. We encourage students to post meal share opportunities on our blog, www.tumblr.com/blog/rumealshare. We will also be updating it with recipes for fellow students to try out and other information on self-sufficiency and cooking.
Abigail Cohen is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior majoring in ecology and natural resources.