Even after ten years as a professor, I look forward to returning to school every autumn. The biannual ritual of buying new books, reuniting with friends after a summer away — these are the Circadian rhythms of the academic. But there is one thing that makes me less than excited about the prospect of returning to UNC: the food.
Let me elaborate. The food currently available on the central campus of UNC is woefully inadequate from a nutritional as well as a gastronomic standpoint. It is highly processed and contains shocking amounts of sugar and salt — that is, when one can locate any nutritional information.
Here are some examples. Zoca’s vegetarian nachos (Lenoir Main Street) are 1,294 calories per serving, with 73 grams of fat and a whopping 3,492 milligrams of sodium, according to CampusDish.com — around 150 percent of the daily recommended sodium allowance for active men.
Thirsty? I bet. The strawberry milkshake from Chick-fil-A weighs in at 760 calories and a terrifying 105 grams of sugar —more than 26 teaspoons.
These nutritional land mines would not be so dangerous were healthier, fresher choices available to our students and staff.
But many of the items advertised as “healthy” are anything but. The “ideal meal” smoothie at Jamba Juice is 570 calories and contains 54 grams of sugar, more than 13 teaspoons — yes, that’s why you are having trouble staying awake in your 2 p.m. lecture.
Sandwiches from Chick-fil-A and Subway are virtually devoid of nutrients; in order to consume 30 percent or more of any essential vitamin in a 6-inch Subway sandwich, you must add jalapenos, green peppers and banana peppers — how many people can stomach that combination?
If it sounds as though I am singling out some suppliers over others, it is only because I was unable to secure any nutritional data at all for many of the food outlets across campus. But it is virtually impossible at UNC to eat what most nutritionists and doctors agree to be a healthy meal: a balance of lean protein and a variety of vegetables, nuts, and seeds, with little starch and no sugar. The UNC diet simply has grotesque amounts of hidden sugar — you might as well use Nutella.
The poor nutritional quality of the food served on campus affects our community in many ways: the dreaded “freshman 15”; the lack of energy plaguing many of us; our health care costs; even the “fast food” mentality that prevents most of us from enjoying a sensible meal that lasts longer than five minutes. Moreover, by eschewing fresh, local food in favor of corporate fast food, we are losing an ideal opportunity to support the local economy and thus the state — one of the missions of our University, after all.
I am not advocating the elimination of fast food or sugary foods from UNC. There is a right time and place for sweets and other treats — although I don’t happen to think that place is in my chicken sandwich. Many of us are willing to pay a little bit more, and wait a little bit longer, for meals derived from fresh vegetables, from clean, unprocessed meat and fish and from local products where feasible. UNC has recently taken other bold steps, such as the recent smoking ban, to ensure the collective health of the community.
But until our University can supply us with decent, fresh, real food, it has not made a full commitment to our health.
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