• Campus Food

Campus Food Quality and General Student Health at Penn State University

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If you sift through our postings about the quality of dining programs at universities across the country, you’ll notice a common theme: students aren’t overly thrilled about what their meal plans are getting them, but they at least admit it could be worse in most cases. It’s true that there are outliers. Just read our review of Stanford University if you don’t believe us. It’s the healthiest, most vegan friendly campus that we’ve probably encountered thus far. Unfortunately, most schools outsource their food to culinary service companies (read: true masters of delivering all of those calorie packed staples you didn’t love in high school). Scholars at Penn State University are subjected to the same old fare of hamburgers, chicken fingers and so on. The strange thing is that they’re not too upset about it. Read on to discover why this may or may not be a bad thing.

You have to keep track of a lot during your academic years, from managing part-time jobs with a schedule full of classes to getting those essays done on time. A healthy, energizing meal doesn’t seem viable most of the time. This becomes very apparent when you consider what some Lions have to say about the institution’s six major dining commons. The cookies are raved about, buffets of fast food like dishes are devoured and don’t even get them started on the HUB. This food court boasts: Starbucks, Burger King, Sbarro, Chik-fil-A, Panda Express and more. Our minds are practically reeling with visions of caffeinated concoctions and sodium overload. One student came right out and said what we’re all thinking. “There could be a greater selection of healthy food options.” Pupils-on-the-go in all their indulgent glory will gladly “make do” with what’s in front of them, but some of the blame falls on the university at hand.

Schools that used fresh ingredients, offered unique meals prepared by skilled chefs and who did their best to implement feedback appear to have much higher functioning students. They’re getting the things that they need to carry them through their days. It’s easy to look at a plate of fatty foods, and feel drawn to the instant gratification that it’s going to bring you. How it’s going to make you feel in half an hour is a much different scenario typically. If having an infinite variety of options is important to you, then you’ll be very pleased with the setup at Penn State. If you’re concerned with the quality of those options, then think again.

Delving outside of the actual food, it’s worth noting that the structure of the meal plans isn’t something that students might brag about to their other collegiate comrades. For starters, not every graduate living in the dorms likes that they’re required to have a plan. Breakfast, lunch and dinner isn’t always guaranteed when you’re busy. There are those students who prefer to simply eat when they’re hungry. This logic doesn’t factor into the points based setup that’s used. These points carry over from fall to spring semester, but they’re forfeited during spring to summer terms summer classes being a reality these days for those who are committed to graduating in four years. Not only do students feel like this average food is overpriced, but they also say their lifestyles don’t enable them to take advantage of every meal which amounts to nothing more than money wasted.

Penn State has food, and lots of it. That’s really all we can discern about the school, though. With the same old options and no real stance or mission when it comes to clean eating, sustainability and other factors that have become the norm at more progressive schools, it’s certainly not the kind of campus that befits the health conscious eater with a refined palette. If you still salivate over the thought of cafeteria chicken fingers and French fries, you’ll likely find oodles of joy amidst the lines of your tray carrying peers.

Ryan James is a ’13 alumnus of Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in writing and media. He currently works as a copywriter for a Fortune 500 e-commerce corporation based in Columbus, OH.

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