By Abby N. Virio, Staff Writer
These days, we hear more and more about the decline in enrollment and the vacancy in university housing. As a two-time residential student, I am unfazed. It may surprise you to know that it is not just the steep price that has students rolling their eyes at those “live-on campus” posters—it is also what I refer to as the “UMSL Diet.” Featuring such hot items as ProHo’s microwave food masquerading as fine dining, to the WOW Café’s grease-soaked baskets of early-onset heart disease, the UMSL Diet is a choose-your-own-adventure with notoriously little choice. Whether you have a dietary restriction or your stomach simply cannot handle the industrial waste Sodexo wants it to handle, Sodexo has a death grip on UMSL students’ wallets and arteries.
We have all heard of the “freshman 15.” Rather than gain 15 pounds during my first semester on a mandatory UMSL dining plan, I lost 20 pounds. As an individual who was accustomed to eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat, Sodexo’s processed foods made me physically ill whenever I visited ProHo, Pizza Hut, or WOW Café. With the salad bar as my sole comfort, I found myself eating the same meal twice a day, every day until I simply stopped eating after breakfast. It was not until I blacked out on a staircase that I realized my diet had become a serious problem. Embarrassed and sure that my experience would be seen as “picky-ness” associated with a privileged diet, I kept to myself and began eating more often at friends’ houses while $1700 burned a hole in my semester dining account.
Here is my point: Eating a balanced, healthy diet is not a privilege. It is a right that our students are entitled to. UMSL students do not deserve to pay $3372 to $3880 annually to eat overpriced, over-processed food, simply because college students do not know or deserve quality. They do. For students who have dietary restrictions due to lactose-intolerance, religious beliefs, Celiac’s disease, a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, or any number of reasons, there are virtually no options. Besides the fact that many options Sodexo does offer are deliberately misrepresented on their menus, finding one or two meals you like on the menu, or buying an overripe banana in the Nosh, is not enough to sustain a person who must eat two meals a day, every day, on campus.
As far as pricing goes, I think I can sum that up with the image of a group of high school students I observed visiting UMSL. As they left lunch, I heard one student say to the group, “That was expensive. I couldn’t afford to go here.” The group agreed.
Additionally, dining dollars have extremely limited use. Not only do they not function during breaks, which is devastating to students who have nowhere to go home for break, but some on-campus dining options either do not accept meal blocks or dining dollars, such as Subway or the café in SSB, or are closed on the weekends, such as Triton Treats, the Nosh, Einstein’s, and Southside Café. I learned early on that if I did not stock up on cereal during the week, I would be hungry all weekend.
Even the C-Store, which is supposedly up-charged for “convenience” yet is the only place on campus you can buy a semblance of groceries, offers no fresh fruits, vegetables, or meats. I once went three weeks without milk because the C-Store had not replenished its supply. And I highly doubt that anyone in the administration would be satisfied eating Lean Cuisine meals and bologna every day. Not to mention, a pack of original Oreos, which cost you $2.99 at Target, costs a whopping $8.09 at the C-Store.
When I moved on campus, I was optimistic about the convenience of being near friends and classes. I do not want to lose this accessibility; however, I believe that for the sake of my health and my wallet, returning to life on campus in the future is out of the question for me. Until UMSL can demonstrate that it cares about the nutrition of its students, I am getting off the UMSL diet as soon as I can.