As a frequent patron of Littlefield Patio Cafe, I have noticed a common lunch choice among the students dining there: pizza. For those of you who have not seen it, Littlefield Patio Cafe’s pizza is a sight: thick crust, dripping with brushed-on butter, and enough cheese per slice to cover a whole pizza pie. I’m not talking about a crisp brick oven, New York-style thin crust pizza. No. Think a slice of Texas toast plus a cup of cheese dripping in fat. That is what you get in one slice of Littlefield’s pizza.
OK, I exaggerate a bit. But my point is still valid. College students’ diets are neither healthy nor varied. When I confronted some of my peers about their eating habits, most of them responded with something to the effect of, “Healthy food is not available on campus, and if it is, it’s expensive.”
But my friends’ complaints are not true.
Over the past eight to nine years, the Division of Housing and Food Services at UT has been working hard to provide more nutritious food in the cafeterias. The department has had considerable success.
According to Executive Chef Robert Mayberry, DHFS partners with the Sustainable Food Center to provide local, healthier meal options to students. For example, many of the vegetables served this month (such as potatoes, lettuce, and arugula) are from local farms. The boiled eggs in Kinsolving are organic eggs from Vital Farms, a local establishment. The tortillas are locally cooked, too.
Recently, DHFS has added a nutritionist to their team and nutritional information for menu items at Jester, Kinsolving, Littlefield and Cypress Bend are available online. The staff has also marked locally grown produce with special symbols — a Texas sign for local foods and a red recycling sign for sustainable eats.
In other words, healthier options are available, for the same price as unhealthy food, all over campus. Students just have to know to look for them.
Some questions remain unanswered. Why is junk food still available, and why do college students choose it over healthier options? If there is a crisis of eating habits on campuses in this country, is it the responsibility of the dining halls to stop serving calorie-and-cheese-laden pizza, or the students’ to stop demanding it?
According to Chef Mayberry, stopping the provision of healthier foods in the cafeteria is nearly impossible because “people have come to expect they can get anything they want at any time.” Such an approach doesn’t work when you are offered only sustainable, local eats. Even more of it has to do with students’ unwillingness to re-learn how to eat. Mayberry notes that students are reluctant to educate themselves on healthy eating. “A person has to want to change. There is just a lot of junk food out there,” he said.
How willing are students to stop eating junk food? Vivian Yee recently reported in the New York Times about how grade school students have thrown lunches on the floor in protest of changes toward healthier meals.
College dining halls do at times resemble elementary school lunchrooms, but if students on this campus truly want to shift toward healthier eating habits, they must distinguish themselves from third-graders and accept that the burden is on them to exercise their power as consumers.
Yesterday afternoon, while brushing butter on a pie’s golden crust, one Littlefield Patio Cafe employee paused to tell me that the cafe sells around 80 pizzas a day. If UT students are serious about increasing the quantity of “good” food available on campus, they must indicate so in their dining habits.
Malik is a Plan II and Business Honors Program freshman.