By Michelle Hardy
While colleges are traditional breeding grounds for democratic involvement, many Fordham students still abstain from the chance to vote three times a day, every day, with their meal choices. In the artificial vs. natural food battle, many campus dwellers think twice before going organic due to lack of convenience and low budgets.
Most students have heard by now that organic products promote healthy bodies and a healthy environment, but these ideas don’t always translate from brain to wallet. With rising tuition costs, a stingy job market, and exorbitant New York City dining prices, Fordham students have a lot on their plates. It is surely daunting, then, to sign on to an emerging consumer battle while struggling just to afford consumption in the first place.
Boycotting irresponsible food companies can be intimidating to college students in that going organic usually requires a larger grocery budget. And considering the notorious pizza-snarfing, beer-chugging college students of the world, it’s easy to guess why budgets for nutritious food are often the first to be squeezed by this generation. Buying organics or whole foods may be doubly hard for young consumers affected by the ailing economy.
In fact, since 2008 colleges across the country have seen significant increases in the number of students resorting to bread lines and food pantries, according to New York Times columnist Laura Fitzpatrick. A food bank near the University of Washington, for example, witnessed a 25% increase in student visits during 2008, and participants in the food assistance program at the Community College of Denver doubled during this year. Many other US academic communities experienced similar trends since the onset of the recession.
Still, food industry corruption is not an issue students can simply choose to fight or choose to ignore based on monetary means. Each person is inherently part of the battle in that they vote on the matter with their dollars three times a day. While it is harder for some, every student is still responsible for consuming as wisely as possible within their own means.
Artist Justin Perricone’s interpretation of Hot Pocket ingredients (from Boing Boing)… Does this look like your college diet?
Eating ethically and nutritionally during a recession will take a few sacrifices – as does any cause worth fighting for – but there are ways of doing so realistically. This could mean buying less $1.50 bottled water or $4.00 lattes to save money. It could mean becoming a keen coupon shopper. It could mean buying in bulk. It could mean cooking meals with a group several times a week instead of excess spending on single meals or restaurant outings.
Students can also inspire structural change to make responsible foods more accessible on campus. What would it take to demand grass-fed beef, antibiotic-free chicken, or bread without partially hydrogenated soybean oil? If students join together in a campaign to make widespread healthy choices and demand a wider variety of ethically produced or organic products, they just might convince their food providers that these items will attract greater profits. Indulging in packaged or highly-processed foods, though, will only perpetuate the dominance of these items on campus.
Every student can make room on their plate for the battle against unethical food processors. Fordham students can start by grabbing the attention of Sodexo, but there are much bigger fish to fry in terms of food corporations that have coerced scientists, government agencies, and Congress for decades.
A national food market dominated by products that support healthy bodies, a healthy environment, and a healthy economy is extremely attainable, if only students start voting for the right side as educated eaters. And until now, the democratic process has never tasted quite so good.
So which side are your dollars going to? To make it the right one, here are suggestions for those looking to dine responsibly:
Eating Ethically on a Tight Grocery Budget:
– Eat less meat. Meat is usually on the pricier end of food purchases, and when eating out, adding meat to a meal is usually a $2.00 or more charge. And unless your meat has an organic sticker, it was probably antibiotic-treated and hormone-infused in a factory farm. Beef is also the largest fossil-fuel depleting food industry we have. I’m no vegetarian, but meat lobbyists saying we need 2-3 servings every day are just plain wrong.
– Cut down on luxury items. You’d be surprised how much larger your budget is when you buy less desserts, cocktails, bottles of water, or Starbucks concoctions every week. This doesn’t mean eliminating your treats. Speaking as the biggest latte-lover I know: moderation is key.
– Avoid Fancy Health Foods. Most protein bars, fiber-fortified products, and fat-free items are often just new versions of overly-processed mystery foods. They aren’t necessarily healthy, and they’re also very expensive. Instead of an Odawalla bar, why not bring an orange as a snack?
– Cook more meals with a group. Cooking at least one or two times a week is a good way to control your budget, especially if you buy in bulk for group meals. This leaves more dollars to put toward organics. Cooking with friends is also a surefire bonding experience and a good way to unwind.
– Buy in bulk. Getting large boxes of pasta, rice, beans, etc. and making meals from these a couple times a week will surely lower food expenses. These simplified meals aren’t nearly as monotonous as what you might already be eating, considering any processed foods you buy rely mainly on manipulated corn and soy ingredients. Simplifying your meals can often be refreshing and healthier. Also, buying whole fruits and vegetables are much cheaper than buying prepared salads or fruit cups.
Becoming a Food Activist on Campus:
– Choose healthy foods in the cafeteria. Your choices can signify a higher demand for these items, and you can encourage your friends to do the same.
– Talk to Sodexo. If more Fordham students start voicing concerns about meal options and ingredients, you might see some changes:
Brian Poteat, General Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael DeMartino, Executive Chef: email@example.com
Bill Haag, Purchasing Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Ask to Join the Student Culinary Council. You’ll have more access to and influence on choices made in the cafeteria: