Yang: The problem with our dining halls

The University of Oregon’s dining halls have a reputation on campus for providing students with delectable foods at all five locations. The staff has done a wonderful job at making sure that all of the eating quarters are kept clean and tidy for bustling students rushing to and from classes. I am aware of this because I, too, am a busy student that takes her toasted sandwich with 20-toppings to go religiously.

Because of housing, many of the university’s students have all three of their main meals on campus. Although the campus dining halls have, for the most part, kept our student population nice and plump, there are some concerns that have not been addressed that our student body should take their time to care about. After all, wouldn’t it be super dank to know the true ingredients used to get your gains?

A good deal of our dining hall’s foods are delivered to us from local businesses all over Oregon, and it begs me to question the validity of each company’s influence in our community. Oregon business owners have done an excellent job commercializing each of their products as “organic” or “gluten-free,” and it brings up uncertainties of whether these trending health fads are actually in place to encourage a healthy lifestyle or to increase the growth of local businesses.  

That being said, the way in which the dining hall menus represent foods and drinks is extremely concerning. Last week, a close friend of mine pointed at the smoothie menu located at Dux Bistro that read “Lo-Calorie Strawberry Smoothie.” Looking at this title from a first glance, nothing seems to appear out of place. After all, it’s just a strawberry smoothie, right?

Wrong. Labeling this drink as “Lo-Calorie” implies that you should not feel guilty when drinking this smoothie. Despite the fact that the smoothie might have been labeled low-calorie to be a part of the latest health mania, labeling smoothies — that are already supposed to be healthy — as low-calorie is like saying that a banana split for breakfast is a good idea. The title encourages students (in a passive way) to compartmentalize and stay away from certain foods, in order to clean themselves of a guilty conscience. Ironically, the so-called lo-calorie smoothie actually consists of artificial flavorings and powders, which the menu board has forgotten to mention. 

Unfortunately, it’s not just the smoothies that mislead us. The smoothies serve as a single example of how the dining hall menu board has deceived our students. I can speak from experience that when ordering a “Chicken Pesto Sandwich” from Grab ‘n’ Go, you can expect to take a bite into both chicken and pork. The lack of information given to students up front about what they are consuming presents both mental and physical threats to students that don’t know any better.     

On the other hand, we also need to talk about the hours at which the dining halls are open. For the most part, our school places a big emphasis on exercising and living a healthy lifestyle, so it is not shocking when students on campus are either athletes or Fitbit wearers, because if you didn’t get in your 10,000 steps, there was no point in waking up that morning. With this in mind, the dining hall hours are extremely conflicting when it comes to serving appropriate meals according to student schedules.

When I say ‘appropriate’ I am referring to at which time certain foods should be served. During the week hours range from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., but hours for specific foods differ. If a student assumes that he or she will eat oatmeal in the morning after their first class they are sadly mistaken, because oatmeal is provided only for the few students taking 8 a.m. classes and not again until the afternoon. On the weekends, when student athletes wake up to practice bright and early, they are expected to have to eat after intense workouts because the dining halls do not open at an earlier hour. The early bird does not get the worm; at least not until 10 a.m.

Corresponding to the opening hours of the dining halls, the closing hours are not aligned with students who bust their butts in the architecture studio, spend their Friday nights writing research papers at the Knight Library or bulking up at the Student Recreation Center, because that’s the only time they have to work. The problematic dining hall hours force students to spend cash instead of pre-purchased Duck points to eat at processed fast-food restaurants. College students are already on a tight budget, and if most of us had the luxury to dine out, it would not be at the unhealthy Panda Express on the first floor of the EMU, but not much else is left.

Therefore, as a busy college student, deciding on when and where to eat is already complicated. No one should have to grapple with the dining halls to try and maintain a healthy, affordable lifestyle, and considering that a majority of students eat all three meals on campus, the dining halls need to take on the responsibility of maintaining a healthy community by making it clear to students outright just what we are actually consuming.


Esther Yang

Esther Yang