Emory students work hard. We spend long hours studying, practicing and stressing, and our energy must come from somewhere. We need to sleep and eat, but many of us find ourselves too busy for either. While the administration can do little beyond time management education to remedy the former, the latter is another story. The Emory administration must take substantive action, including extending dining hours and expanding options available at night, to fight food insecurity on this campus.
The Dobbs Common Table (DCT) and the rest of Emory’s dining options may serve a commendable variety of cuisines, but the administration fails to prioritize access to those options. With few early-morning and late-night choices available, particularly regarding specialized diets, allergy needs and nutritional concerns, it’s no wonder that many students face a terrible choice between their hunger and their health.
The DCT is currently open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., on Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Although these hours would initially appear to be more than reasonable, upon further examination they prove far from adequate.
For students with 8 a.m. classes or meetings, the 30 minutes between the opening of the dining hall and their obligations simply is not enough time to pick up their food, sit down, eat it comfortably and walk to their destinations. Those with early-morning athletic practice, sunrise prayer, religious services or jobs may find themselves in still worse positions. Unable to take advantage of the various breakfast options available in the DCT, many of us must instead choose between picking up unhealthy snack foods, purchasing costly alternatives from other dining locations or eating nothing at all.
Studies show that students regularly eating breakfast both perform better academically and experience lower risk for weight gain. While the assertion that many Emory students simply choose not to eat breakfast may be true, making more options available to us would constitute a significant step in the right direction.
The DCT’s evening hours pose an even greater problem. After long days of classes, studying, research, work and extracurriculars, many students don’t have enough time to eat. After 8:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, the available food selection is extremely limited, typically including little more than miscellaneous leftovers, chicken breasts, fries and the like. Many of the few options present are not freshly prepared and many are high in sodium and saturated fat; furthermore, those adhering to vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal and other specialized diets find themselves restricted to a few soggy vegetables and tater tots. And on Fridays and Saturdays, no food is available in the DCT at all by that time.
While the DCT ceases operating at 8:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. every day, students continue working. Those of us in need of fuel late at night typically end up waiting in line at the Woodruff Residential Center, the Eagle Emporium, Kaldi’s, or Peet’s Coffee. While some of these locations do offer food at later times, they lack consistently healthy, affordable and specialized options. Subsisting on chicken tenders, pizza and fried chicken sandwiches — given their stratospheric sodium levels, excessive calorie counts and highly processed ingredients — is not a sustainably healthy lifestyle. Rather than enabling us to fall into the stereotype of the unhealthy college student, Emory should instead empower us to rise above it.
These access issues are not insurmountable. The lights, air conditioning and electricity remain on after the students leave, and the Emory Student Center itself is open all night; the costs of keeping the area serviceable would be relatively trivial. Even a small contingent of staff would be enough to keep the two open stations clean and fully stocked. Paying a small number of additional staff to serve pre-prepared food earlier in the morning or stay another hour or two at night would seem to be a perfectly reasonable solution.
Changing the way food is served in the DCT would also benefit students greatly. Instead of taking away the dinner food at the other stations, staff should instead keep it safely heated and make it available alongside the typical late dinner fare. Failing that, any food remaining after closing time could be taken upstairs to the Eagle Emporium to be served as well. Such a scheme would both save on costs and increase the variety of healthy and specialized options available late at night.
Emory’s commitment to sourcing its ingredients locally is laudable, as are its ongoing sustainability and nutrition initiatives. We have delicious food, a beautiful new dining hall and amazing staff — all of which warrant the full extent of our gratitude.
With that being said, to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded us by Emory and to reconcile our health concerns with our work ethic, we must have access to them. Students: reach out to the administration about your concerns and contact the Food Advisory Committee at Emory about your ideas. Advocate for the change you wish to see. It’s as Virginia Woolf wrote: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” We, as perennially hungry college students, certainly do not lack the will. All we need is the way.
Ben Thomas (23C) is from Dayton, Ohio.