Verbum Ultimum: An Apple a Day

The high price and limited availability of nutritious food options at Dartmouth Dining locations are detrimental to students’ wellbeing.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/15/22 4:00am

verbum_ultimum
by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Dartmouth Dining Services — the company that operates the dining halls and cafes on Dartmouth’s campus — has gotten heat for many issues throughout the years, from absurdly long lines at the beginning of the fall term to reducing the hours of many dining locations following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the company has swiftly addressed some of these shortcomings, another clear issue has yet to be confronted — the limited amount of affordable, healthy options at Dartmouth Dining locations. 

Dartmouth Dining is the main food source for Dartmouth students, as all students living in campus housing are required by the College to purchase a meal plan. As such, it is vital that Dartmouth Dining’s offerings are comprehensive, affordable and healthy. However, the high price and low availability of fruits and vegetables at many Dartmouth Dining locations restricts students’ access to healthy food options. Eating a well-balanced diet should not mandate consumption of a salad or an apple (which are the few offerings available at nearly every Dartmouth Dining location) — there should be the same abundance of nutritious offerings around campus as there are fried or processed foods.

When entering any Dartmouth Dining location — with the exception of the all-you-can-eat Class of 1953 Commons — students can choose from many different variations of carbohydrates to fill their meals each day. From fried onion rings and quesadillas at the Courtyard Cafe, to pasta and stir fry at Collis, to pastries and greasy sandwiches at Novack Cafe, there are few options for those seeking a well-balanced meal. Granted, students can find singular bananas and apples as well as pre-packaged salads at these locations, but if these items do not fit your tastes or your dietary restrictions, there are practically no other sources of fruits and vegetables available for students. 

Furthermore, the cost of many of these options is exorbitant compared to the unhealthier alternatives. For example, a fruit cup at Courtyard Cafe costs nearly $7 while a burger costs $7.75. This means that when students are examining their meal options and trying to budget their meal swipes and DBA, even eating a normal elementary school lunch of a PB&J and a fruit cup is much less attractive than a burger and fries—despite the fact that these two meals cost the same—as the latter is much more filling.  

While one may argue that the price disparity between fruit cups and burgers is due to the fact that fruit simply costs more, a quick trip to a local grocery store suggests otherwise. Let’s look at one popular fruit that is readily available in grocery stores and our own dining halls: Apples. At Dartmouth Dining locations, an apple costs around $1.25. This doesn’t seem wholly unreasonable at first. However, a trip to Price Chopper in nearby West Lebanon earlier this week revealed that the same apple at the supermarket costs a meager $0.65.  This means that even the cheapest fruits such as apples have a nearly 100% markup at Dartmouth Dining locations.

We are not arguing that the exorbitant cost of food at Dartmouth Dining locations is leading to a hungry student body — there are plenty of packaged and processed foods available to ensure that students meet their daily caloric intake. Rather, the sheer lack of access to affordable fruits and vegetables contributes to a corpus of Dartmouth students who may be fed, but are not well-nourished. The benefits of regular produce consumption are clear: It has been shown to boost one’s immune system and is correlated with better mental health. What’s also apparent are the negative side effects of limited access to produce: Students getting sick more often, having to purchase vitamins and supplements to meet recommended nutrient intake levels and struggling to keep up with their jam-packed schedules because they’re running on iced coffee and Pop-Tarts. 

What’s more, having access to a variety of foods has been shown to be crucial for building healthy relationships with food — and particularly for successful recovery from an eating disorder such as anorexia. Many people recovering from anorexia prefer fruits and vegetables meaning that the limited availability of produce outside of salads, bananas and apples fails to provide the variety that is crucial for recovery. Furthermore, in terms of price, foods that are supposed to be nothing more than a supplement to a meal, such as a fruit cup, are being treated as though they are nutritionally equivalent to a meal — which can establish problematic relationships with food and complicate recovery even further.

For those who struggle with social anxiety, the limited availability of nutritious, healthy options at most dining locations is exacerbated by how crowded ’53 Commons is. For these students, eating at the main dining hall on campus — which also happens to be the dining location with the most readily available healthy food options — is a precarious, unattractive option, especially if their meal plan of choice is a less expensive one with fewer swipes. This leaves these students with even fewer means of accessing nutritious food. 

Quite frankly, as an institution in a rural location where on-campus students must be on a meal plan, the lack of fresh produce available to students is unacceptable. An abundance of healthy, affordable food options on campus is vital for the mental and physical wellbeing of the student body, and it is unfair for students to have to choose between having enough DBA and meal swipes to last a term and eating a balanced, healthy diet. While we acknowledge that students have the option to purchase food off-campus, there are few places to do so within walking distance, nor is this choice equitable for students from low-income backgrounds.

To address these issues Dartmouth Dining must expand its offerings of healthy and nutritious offerings, not just at the ’53 Commons, but in every dining location. Additionally, the pricing for healthy options must be such that purchasing healthy options is attractive for students. One possible means of making healthy foods more affordable includes marking up less healthy options such as candy, chips and soda in exchange for marking down the price of fruits and vegetables. In short, Dartmouth Dining must make offering a variety of healthy, nutritious options at all of its dining locations a priority to ensure students get the vitamins and nutrients they need to live healthy, happy lives. 

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

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