I considered last week to be a victory. I can think of only three meals that I ate at the Dartmouth Dining Service (DDS) facilities over seven days.
Why was this a victory? It’s simple: health. When I cook at home, I eat better.
It is certainly possible to eat healthy food on campus. But it is much more possible to do the opposite.
Walking into Food Court, you will often see football players lined up at the grill, awaiting their daily dose of grease: fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, or pizza.
As my housemate Kristin Dewey notes, Food Court provides you the most “calories per dollar” if you’re trying to be economical.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the best place to eat. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess complains, “I feel gross after eating at DDS… like I’m leaking grease out of my face.”
Maybe Food Court is okay for the football team, but as Kristin says, “It depends on your sport. Runners and skiers can’t carry around too much extra weight!”
I worked hard to lose more than 10 pounds last spring, and I certainly wasn’t eating at Food Court during that time.
That’s the thing: we skiers need a lot of calories, but they have to be the right ones. “DDS can provide a quantity of calories, it’s true,” says Dakota, “but the problem is that when you are entirely missing certain parts of your diet, like good raw vegetables, eating more doesn’t make up for that lack.”
In addition, “The food that is served in significant quantities isn’t very good,” laments Pete Van Deventer. “DDS tends to serve primarily steamed vegetables that lose a lot of their flavor.”
Let me make something clear. I’m not saying that DDS isn’t trying, or that they’re not doing a decent job with what they have to work with. But when you’re trying to feed thousands of students, a drop in quality is to be expected
When I do have dinner on campus, I tend to eat at the Pavilion, which serves Kosher and Halal food. Relatively few students eat there, and the smaller batches lead to better meals.
Unfortunately, the higher quality food is “expensive to eat in the volumes that I need,” says Pete.
Besides the way the food is prepared, we want to know what we’re eating and where it came from. Three of us took Suzanne Friedberg’s “Food and Power” course last spring; this is stuff we care about.
I really admire the Farm to Dartmouth program, in particular, and wish its scope could be expanded. It only accounts for a small portion of the food that DDS serves.
Hannah Dreissigacker has made a goal of eating no meat from DDS this year. “I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve been trying to only eat meat that I know the source of, not the crazy hormone-antibiotic-corn stuff that I know is what I’m getting from DDS.”
This is a view shared by quite a few members of our team. Ida Sargent says, “I’m used to eating a lot of natural lean protein and it’s hard to find on campus.” To me, locally sourced beef tastes better than the industrial kind anyway.
This might make me a snob. But I’m trying to take care of my body and give it what it needs to train 10 or 20 hours a week. Dakota says, “As an athlete, I value the ‘quality’ of a calorie first. If I put junk into my body, I should expect it to run like junk.”
The solution is clearly to cook for ourselves.
A stock meal at my house is pasta – usually tortellini stuffed with cheese or spinach – tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chicken sausage, a variety of vegetables, and parmesan cheese.
This simple meal only takes 20 minutes to prepare. I get carbohydrates, vitamins and nutrients from the vegetables, protein, and some fat to hold it all together. Plus there’s leftovers for lunch. Oh, and it tastes really good.
I would love to talk more about the delicious things we cook, or maybe about our four-student bread co-op, but here’s the point that every person I talked to agreed on, summed up by Ida: “I think I’ve eaten a lot less DDS [since moving off campus] because it’s more expensive. I can cook the same thing at home for a much cheaper price and it usually tastes better.”
Dakota gave me three or four examples (including sandwiches, salmon, and a whole chicken carcass), with dollar amounts, of how much more cost-effective it is to buy ingredients and put them together yourself.
Pete noted that he liked local vegetables and cooked them so they were “tasty,” not steamed.
Kristin simply said, “DDS overcharges for everything.”
But here’s the kicker: even when we don’t eat DDS, we still owe the college money. Every Dartmouth student is required to have a meal plan, and the smallest amount you can pay each term is $655. That’s even if you have an apartment and cook your own meals. If we don’t use it up, let’s just say there aren’t refunds.
So maybe last week was a victory for my health and my taste buds, but my checkbook will still be punished.