Stern: Modern medicine

Searching for salad in the dining hall
Searching for salad in the dining hall Photo by Darell Koh.

It’s ironic that the new environmentally friendly mugs sport the phrase “Yale: Where blue is green.” Funnily enough, as Yale Dining pushes to become “greener,” it has cut out the most basic green of all — our salad bar.

In five colleges and Commons, the full salad bar has been removed, and replaced with a couple of pre-made salads. These salads aren’t bad — in fact many of them are quite good. However, especially because so many have meat products and are noodle based, they are not a suitable substitute for the array of fresh vegetables we used to have at every meal.

For many students grumbling about the missing salad bars (including the 802 at press time in the “I would like a salad bar please” Facebook group) the issue is an issue of choice. We don’t need to have an “end” in mind when making our salads they say, mocking Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian’s quote in the News earlier this month. We just want to be able to pick our vegetables.

But it’s more than just about giving students what they want, or even just giving students lots of options. Salad bars provide easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables and often provide an incentive to eat healthfully. In 2007, researchers at University of California-Los Angeles found implementing salad bars in schools increased produce consumption more than 20 percent. Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that “poor eating habits at school may in part be the fault of poor selection, not resistance to fresh food.”

And it’s especially important to encourage college students to eat fruits and vegetables; students our age rarely get enough. According to the 2007 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, on average, college students only eat a couple of servings of fruit and vegetables each day, well under the five to nine servings recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dining halls should be places that promote healthy eating by making healthy options readily available. Each day they provide food to thousands of students, and thus have a unique ability to influence students’ eating habtis. Moreover, outside the dining hall, especially in a city without a supermarket, healthy options are often more difficult than other snacks to buy “on the go.” Produce tends to be more expensive, and salads, for instance, are much less convineint to eat on the run than cookies, chips or even a sandwich. Within the dining hall, when these options are not available, it becomes even easier to give in to cravings and choose the readily abundant cereals, baked goods, ice cream and bread.

Even Yale Dining recognizes this tendency towards unhealthy eating and the need to encourage students to make better choices: Last spring, their “Wellness Information and Nutrition” flier stressed the importance of vegetables and leafy greens and said that dessert should be an occasional treat rather than an everyday fixture. Advocating for smaller plate sizes and vegetarian eating, it seemed to suggest that many students needed to change their eating habits.

But Yale Dining seems to have backed off this campaign for health. They have taken away one of the best tools to promote healthy eating. In addtion, desserts remain abundant (not that I’m complaining). Although it’s true that calorie count cards placed above many pre-cooked foods may make us think twice about what and how much we eat, they don’t have all the information: If students are choosing a 200 calorie half-slice of lasagna over a 200 calorie side salad, they sacrifice many nutrients. And there are not calorie cards for everything. In fact, the cards are often absent on the pre-made salad bar, making it difficult to judge just how healthy that “Apple Pecan Ranch Salad” or “Cauliflower Salad With Ricotta Salata” really is.

There have been lots of aspects of Yale Dining to complain about this year, but many of them — like the fact that the brunch hours changed during the first week of classes or that Durfee’s hasn’t had it’s usual late-night hours or that you can’t use a lunch swipe at Commons after 2:30 or take food out in a disposable cup — have just made life on the meal plan a bit inconvenient. Changes to the salad bar, however, have much more of an impact. It’s not just that Yale Dining’s choice — no matter how well-intentioned it was — seems to have ignored student input and trades choice for pre-made options.

When it comes to our salad bar, the nutrition of students, some of whom eat every meal in the dining hall, is at stake.

And while students have voiced their concerns about many of the issues, right now, what we want, and what we need, is fresh fruits and vegetables in our dining halls.

Rebecca Stern is a junior in Berkeley College.

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