Food for thought: students deserve healthier nighttime dining options

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Illustration courtesy of Alice Feng

Imagine this: It’s been a long, hard practice and you find yourself daydreaming about the Homestyle station at the Marketplace (MP). By the time you get out of the weight room at 7:27 p.m., you use every ounce of energy you have left to sprint up the stairs right through Branca Patio — only to find that the MP has shut its doors. Excitement changes to heartbreak. The smell of sweet and sour chicken you had been dreaming about during chin-ups is no longer a reality. Unfortunately, it will be another PB&J type of night.

The MP is open 12 hours a day, Monday–Friday, according to Occidental’s website. This 12-hour window does not accommodate students’ schedules — particularly student-athletes, most of whom practice during the hours that the MP is open. If the MP extended its hours, athletes and students with night classes would have healthier food options than a grilled cheese or celery sticks from the Tiger Cooler, the only late-night option on campus aside from the Coffee Cart.

As an athlete, I know it’s hard enough to manage school, friends, relationships, practice, remembering to call your mom and then eating healthy on top of everything. As a swimmer, I know that healthy eating is essential for athletic performance. According to swimming news outlet Swim Swam, swimmers must maintain a healthy diet in order to swim best at meets. Nutritional guides provided by our coaches say that we should be focusing on a healthy diet with a high caloric intake of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. To simplify it: swimmers need to eat a lot. I’m not a nutritional expert, but I am pretty confident that the slice of American cheese in a delicious Cooler grilled cheese sandwich does not count as a healthy protein. However, the grilled salmon and chicken at the MP’s Grill Station count.

Eating healthy isn’t just important for swimmers — all athletes need to eat. Athletic performance and nutrition are directly correlated, according to the nonprofit Livestrong, which means eating healthy is essential to athletes’ success. If an athlete gets sick in the middle of the season, they need to miss practices, which means forfeiting the opportunity to improve their skills. The MP offers a variety of healthy options in both the salad bar and the baskets full of colorful fruit. If accessible to all students, eating healthy here at Oxy would be as simple as biting into a nice slice of avocado toast.

This school year, Campus Dining introduced Meal Plan A+ for athletes who regularly exceed Meal Plan A. In making this accommodation, Campus Dining acknowledged how much food athletes need to consume. But because many of the selections at the Cooler are not healthy, athletes only have the right quantity of food — not the right quality.

The lack of access to healthy food even harms students who aren’t student-athletes. As undergraduates, we can all attest to being crazy-busy. Many people on campus have pulled all-nighters (or close to it). Nearly everyone can easily recount a story of a week filled with lab write-ups, internship applications, 15-page papers, midterm cumulative tests and club meetings. From my own experiences as an expert procrastinator, I know the feeling of sprinting around campus, feverishly clutching my cold brew in one hand and a textbook in another, looking like a character from The Walking Dead. Eating healthy is the last thing on my mind.

For busy college students like us, staying healthy is hard. Emmons reported a case of chicken pox earlier this school year, as well as several cases of influenza. That impacts students’ academic lives as well as their health: When people are sick, they generally don’t attend class or complete assignments on time. If the MP were to stay open later, the correlation between healthy eating and immune system functioning suggests that fewer students on campus will get sick.

Students need healthy options at night, and either the MP or the Cooler should provide them. I have noticed in my year-and-a-half at Occidental that the Cooler has expanded their options, with new items such as grilled zucchini on the menu starting after 7 p.m. The measures could definitely go further; even offering soda alternatives such as kombucha or sugar-free iced tea would be beneficial. It would not be easy for the MP to extend their hours; there may not necessarily be room in the budget to make this happen. However, dining facilities at other liberal arts colleges, such as California Lutheran and Chapman University, are open as late as 10 p.m. — and if they can do it, so can Oxy.

Elizabeth Brewer is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at brewere@oxy.edu.