The challenges of healthy eating on campus

By Peyton Sheehan
News staff writer
[email protected]
Deciding what to eat can sometimes be difficult, but for some UNC Asheville students, campus dining services are not making the process any easier. The food options provided by dining services do not necessarily cater to students who have food allergies or are vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free.
When living on campus, students are required to have a meal plan. This may limit what they eat on campus due to allergies or dietary restrictions. Some might spend even more money on groceries along with the meal plan.
Over the past week, students and parents have expressed their opinions in regards to dining services. On UNC Asheville’s Class of 2020 Facebook group, a student asked others to go onto the UNC Asheville Dining Services Facebook or Instagram page to leave honest ratings and comments. Parents also voiced their concerns on their Facebook page about the food situation and discussed taking it to the chancellor.
This wave of engagement lead to many concerned comments and one star ratings, which earned UNC Asheville Dining Services’ Facebook page to earn an overall 1.9 star rating out of the 55 reviews left.
Since then administrators have made an effort to reach out to parents and students about the concerns they may have.
UNCA’s Active Students for a Healthy Environment has been making efforts to change options on campus since 2013. It aims to have Chancellor Mary K. Grant sign off on The Real Food Challenge before she resigns at the end of the semester.
According to the Real Food calculator website, food that is “real food” is fulfilled in at least one of the four categories: local and community-based, fair, ecological sound or humane.
The calculator, run by student researchers, goes over the purchases dining services makes over a certain amount of time. One by one they decides what is and is not real food.
According to the Real Food Challenge’s website, only two out of North Carolina’s 40 colleges have signed the Real Food Campus Commitment.
Members of ASHE delivered three crates of donated local apples from Mountain Foods Products, which the school works closely with, to Grant on Oct. 24 along with a copy of the commitment document for her to sign.
Jenna Ventrella, a sophomore health and wellness student, and ASHE’s co-president, said the apples had sticky notes on them which said “We want real food,” “20 percent by 2020,” and “Asheville loves real food.”
“We wrote her a nice handwritten letter with a personal note from some people she has close relationships with at Mountain Foods and said ‘Students want this, this aligns with our core value mission statement. We are in the perfect position to pass through and sign off on the Real Food Challenge right now,’” Ventrella said.
Later that day, they received an email from Grant, thanking them for the apples and inviting them to a sustainability conference on Nov. 17 to talk about sustainable eating on campus.
In the past, ASHE made a video and interviewed students about their opinions about dining services. Ventrella said many students thought the percentage of real food on campus was higher than it actually was as of 2014, that they have gotten sick from the food or they did not feel well after eating it and they do not like the food overall.
Ventrella said both dining services and Grant are wanting to run the calculator again to see how far UNCA has come along since 2014, when UNCA was at 2%.
Brooks Castell, director of dining services, explains that there are many different dining options throughout campus for students and visitors. For individuals with common food allergies, the G8 station, in Brown Hall, has food without eight main allergens. There is even a partnership with Pizza Hut, in which students are able to use their declining balance between 9 p.m. and midnight.
“Brown has multiple stations to provide many different options for dining,” Castell said. “The dining hall was designed for flexibility for diners. We also offer catering on campus. Whether you are looking for a full service catering, coffee break and light snacks, a pickup order or casual lunch, we do it all.”
Nancy Yeager, associate vice chair of student affairs administrator, said although Asian food was at the top of students’ surveys Chief Jet, located in Highsmith Student Union, has not been cutting it. The university has given it a year and a half.
“I would like to even switch it out soon, I do not know if we are going to do something and have like a transition period and then a long term plan next fall,” Yeager said. “It is hard to do that much of a turn around over winter break.”
In regards to meal equivalencies, students should reach out to Castell. Something many students do not know or realize is both Argo Tea and Rosetta’s are subcontracted through Chartwells.
“The problem that we have had with both Argo and Rosetta’s is that because they are local and a franchise, they do not like the meal equivalencies, because they do not make money off of it,” Yeager said.
If either Rosetta’s or Argo accepted meal equivalencies, they would have to make prices higher or even around the same cost as it would be at Brown Hall just to make a profit.
If students experience an issue, have comments or concerns about the food that they are eating, Ventrella, Yeager and Castell all stress the importance of giving feedback. Students can leave a comment on a comment card at any eatery on campus, on the university’s dine on campus website, or with any of the managers and supervisors.
“To us, all feedback is good feedback – even if it’s constructive criticism. If we don’t hear what students are unhappy with, we don’t know where we need to improve,” Castell said.