We are so fed up of going hungry
Editorial | U. must address issues of food affordability, accessibility to students
As full-time students with full-time jobs, our eating and sleeping habits are exactly as bad as you’d expect them to be. That’s what our culture assumes of us — we’re young, we’re busy, we are pretty irresponsible in general, so of course we would live off of pizza and instant noodles when we’re left on our own at college.
And that’s just the problem. It’s expected that as hardworking students with full schedules, we’re going to have to make sacrifices when it comes to sleeping and eating properly. It’s so normalized that hardly anyone really talks about it as a serious issue — let alone addresses it.
Surveys and studies have shown that an increasing number of college students across the country are dealing with “food insecurity,” or a lack of nutritional food. This is a problem normally associated with low-income households, but university administrations are reporting it as a problem with students on campus. For example, according to a survey at the University of Oregon, 59 percent of students at Western Oregon University experienced this food insecurity. There needs to be more comprehensive research done on the issue — after all, we all know that no one will take an issue seriously until there are hard facts to validate it as a “real” problem.
The dining hall system at Rutgers is severely flawed, and it’s not because of the food options available. Meal plans are required for first-year students who live on campus and for any students living in on-campus housing without access to a kitchen. This essentially forces students who don’t want or need a meal plan to pay for it anyway, and it is extremely expensive. The smallest plan each semester gives you 50 swipes for $775, which is $15.50 per swipe, and the largest plan is 285 swipes for $2,448, which is about $8.60 per swipe. The all-you-can-eat, buffet style option provides variety, but there are very few people who actually eat anywhere between $8.60 and $15.50 worth of food in one sitting with every swipe. Meal plans don’t roll over to the next semester, and we’re not allowed to share them with other students — it makes absolutely no sense.
Paying for a meal plan is simply not worth it — even if you were to eat out every single day it would be cheaper than paying for meal swipes. And many students are tempted by the many food options on Easton Avenue and around New Brunswick to opt out of paying for a meal plan. But those places aren’t cheap either, especially if you’re looking for a decently healthy option. A salad from Au Bon Pain is almost $8, and a slice of pizza from Gerlanda’s is $2 — and on a college budget, we can all do the math. With the Fresh Grocer at risk of closing down, how many options are there going to be for those who might be inclined (or somehow find the time) to cook for themselves?
Universities need to pay more attention to what their students are eating and how they’re getting food (if they’re even getting it at all). Maybe it is costly to have dining services at cheaper rates for students, and maybe allowing students to use each other’s meal swipes loses the University money, but it’s a sacrifice that it should be willing to make when it’s essential to students’ health and wellbeing. We’ve written editorials on the issues of mental health in a college atmosphere and how we think universities should do more to address those issues — and dealing with the root cause is a good place to start. If Rutgers isn’t willing to be creative about teaming up with businesses and making food more affordable for students off campus, the least it can do is fix the problems in its own dining halls, making it more affordable and accessible for everyone.