Imagine this: You have exactly forty minutes between your last class and your lab period for lunch, but you still have to do the prelab work. You rush to Usdan Dining Hall, and hastily hand your card to the person working at the cash register. For a quick and easy lunch, you make a beeline for the pizza station. You put two slices of plain cheese pizza on your plate. Next, you grab a quesadilla because you are really hungry and then head to the salad bar. You get Caesar salad and put a few croutons on top before you get your drink and sit down to eat. After you are done you see the dessert table and grab a quick brownie to go before you rush back to your room. From what I have seen in the dining halls this scenario is almost spot on for most students. But do we actually know what is in the food we eat?
Out of curiosity and a desire to avoid the dreaded “freshman fifteen,” I checked out Sodexo’s “Nutrition Calculator” online. Basically, the site lets you look up food served in Sodexo dining halls nationwide, and find out nutritional information about the food, like calorie counts, fat and sodium content and other values. Using this site, I calculated the nutritional information of the meal above, and the results were nothing less than shocking. The meal above, which consisted of two slices of cheese pizza, a quesadilla, Caesar salad and a brownie, has 2022 milligrams of sodium (or 84% of your daily value), 17.25 grams of saturated fat (or 92% of your daily value) and 1,052 calories.
Using this website I found that one slice of cheese pizza has 510 milligrams of sodium (21% of your daily value) and 3.5 grams of saturated fat (18% of your daily value). Comparatively, a Sodexo hamburger contains only 470 milligrams of sodium but an astonishing 7 grams of saturated fat. However the most shocking food I researched was the quesadillas they serve in Usdan. Each quesadilla has 502 milligrams of sodium and 8.25 grams of saturated fat. That is almost as much saturated fat as a chicken patty (720 milligrams of sodium and 3 grams of fat), a brownie (220 milligrams of sodium and 3.5 grams of fat) and Caesar salad (280 milligrams of sodium and 2 grams of fat) combined. That is 21% of your recommended daily sodium intake and 40% of your daily saturated fat intake for one measly quesadilla slice.
I then looked up the nutritional information, which is required to be on every chain restaurant’s website by law, for McDonalds, Dominos and Little Debbie in order to compare Sodexo’s food to chain restaurant food. What I found was that Sodexo’s chicken patty had 70 milligrams more sodium but .5 grams less saturated fat than McDonald’s McChicken. However, when compared to a McDonald’s hamburger, Sodexo’s hamburger has 20 milligrams less sodium but 4 grams more saturated fat. Both one slice of Domino’s pizza and one Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie had less sodium and more fat than their Sodexo counterparts. So what does this mean for those who aren’t fluent in nutrition? We need to be careful of what we eat, and how often we eat in the dining halls.
Eating significantly more than the FDA approved 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day and 19 grams of saturated fat may lead to heart problems and obesity. Just that one meal above almost surpasses those guidelines. Eating three meals a day to that magnitude may bear catastrophic results. That is why Sodexo and the university bear responsibility to provide foods that are low in saturated fats and sodium in order to protect the welfare of their students. However, when they allow chicken patties, hamburgers, quesadillas and pizza to be served every single day, they aren’t protecting us. They are instead setting us up for disaster. Although we have the choice of what to eat, Sodexo always has its “staple foods” available, like pizza, hamburgers, quesadillas and chicken patties. With these unhealthy foods always there and in supply, it’s hard not to eat them at least three times a week when other food is in short supply or not appetizing to you.
Brandeis and Sodexo need to take responsibility for the health and welfare of their students. That may mean altering the recipes used for the staple foods of the dining hall in order to make them lower in sodium and fat. Sodexo should also make the staples of the dining hall—the foods they have every day—healthier. Staples should include chicken breasts, steamed vegetables and brown rice, for example. They should rotate out the unhealthy food so that isn’t always the fall back when you can’t find anything else in the dining hall.
However, the fault isn’t completely the university’s or Sodexo’s, it is ours as well. The reason chicken patties, burgers, pizza, quesadillas and brownies are almost always available is because we like them. After all, salty and fatty foods taste good. However, we are blindly picking food, and not paying attention to what can they do to our bodies. We need to demand less “fast food” and fatty meals and more nutritious, natural meals. If we stop eating the unhealthy food, eventually Sodexo will get the message that we care about what we eat. Maybe then they will start providing healthy food consistently, and we can bring about change to the food we eat and the effects it has on our bodies.